Under the weather

Last week I was ill. I had the flu, not a sympathy sniffle, a proper, full fat flu. It was the first time in ages. I spent three days rolled up in a duvet, hot water bottle on my butt cheeks and a flannel draped across my forehead.

Occasionally the children would come and visit me, like I was the pope lying in state. Tiptoeing into the darkened bedroom, stooping down to look in horror at my sweaty face before retreating back to their devices.

The sweat was unlike anything I’d encountered before. You could have wrung me out. I was like a human wash leather. I was hot, then I was cold, the hot again, ricocheting back and forth like I was playing thermostat tennis with my eldest daughter. I didn’t know whether to put on a scarf or some flip flops.

I’d inherited this batch of illness from my wonderful children. These guys are the perfect vessels for transmitting coughs and colds. Small, portable and endlessly sociable. These creatures spend school playtimes just licking each other’s faces and then bringing it into the family home. Once it’s in, it ain’t ever coming out, it’s like Wotsit dust on a car upholstery.

I am a terrible patient. I hate being ill. At least with a hangover there is there a reason for your inactivity. When you’re ill you are essentially just waiting. I tend to cope by firing relentless questions at my wife Jemma:

“Will I ever be well again?”

“What is happening to me?”

“Is it kidney failure? Is it my heart? Should I write a will?”

I thought about ringing the doctors, but they haven’t seen patients since the late nineties, so that’s not an option. The NHS 111 service was considered but quickly discounted. It’s just a cold and I don’t think my situation would be improved by spending an hour waiting to have a chat with a Grandma who has access to google.

I do perversely enjoy the initial moment of coming down with a cold. Sure you feel terrible but it’s the perfect alibi for pausing life. As an adult with two children, those moments don’t come around too often. All those social engagements can wait. You’re looking at a day in your pants watching box sets and letting someone bring you soup and Lucozade. You’d really enjoy it if you didn’t feel like you’d spent the morning in a washing machine.

I can even cope with a runny bottom for a few days. I find that there is a strange sense of euphoria to that. Be honest, who doesn’t like that porcelain throne caressing your southernmost cheeks, it’s a sensation that is never unpleasant. Also, three days on the toilet, feels like a purging of your system. People pay hundreds of pounds to have treatments like this, in health clinics and spa weekends, and yet you’re getting it for free and you haven’t had to travel anywhere.

Last year I had a bout of gastric flu. It was so violent, I thought I was going leave my lungs in the bog. After being ill for a fortnight, living on a diet of Dioralyte and dry bread, I emerged back into civilization. I saw someone in town, and the first thing they said to me?

“You’ve lost weight mate, you look amazing!”

I would have had the same results if I’d spent six weeks in solitary confinement.

When you’re ill and you have kids it’s tough. It’s basically just normal parenting, but with a massive headache. You might be grey, have a stomach as sensitive as Twitter and feel so dizzy it’s like you’ve had seven Jager bombs, but your children don’t care. They want you to make them that cheese toastie, even if doing so pushes you close to death.

It could’ve been much worse of course, my wife Jemma could be the one ill in bed. As long as the router was still working those kids wouldn’t know I was out of the game.

Last year Jemma was ill and the kids were lost. I still remember how desperate they were:

“Mummy is in bed she’s poorly”

“Ok Daddy, so when will she be well then?”

The equilibrium was wrong, when the general is down, the troops need guidance and I clearly wasn’t isn’t the one to give it. It wasn’t long before morale hit rock bottom and they were planning to overthrow me. I had about as much authority as a supply teacher faced with covering double math’s on the last day of term.

Before I was ill, I’d heard the week before, that “there’s a lot of it going round” which is the standard British response when you hear that someone is ill. None of us are medically trained, we are about as much of a Doctor as Dr Pepper was, but we still feel able to offer our expert medical opinion. We then add to this razor sharp assessment by saying things like, “it just seems to hang around” “I’m still not right” and other such useless nonsense.

Being laid up with the flu is great for British people, it gives us something to talk about. It gives us an extra personality. I think the fact that we know we’re going to be able to tell people about how ill we have been, aids in speeding up our recovery. We can slam away as many paracetamol as possible, but nothing cures us quicker than the prospect of going into work and telling everyone just how close to death we were, like a soldier returning from the frontline. We don’t have Purple Hearts but we do have Honey and Lemon Lockets.

The other joy of having a cold and working for a company is being able to go in and be seen to be battling through it. Telling everyone how rubbish you feel, without actually going home. Just sharing the germs with all your colleagues, offering to make tea, sniffing through meetings, sneezing over the printer and working like an assassin, gradually taking out more staff than Alan Sugar.

But there is no fun being ill when you’re self-employed let me tell you. You can’t call in sick to yourself can you? Even if you could, you wouldn’t, you’re just admitting defeat. When you work for a company you can embrace the loving glow of their sick pay policy. Just succumbing to it, laying on the sofa watching Loose Women, knowing that the money is still pouring in, just like the snot from your nasal cavities.

Self-employed people are famous the world over, for dragging themselves out of their sick beds, sniffing a Berocca and plowing on like Olympic athletes. Have you ever heard of a tradesmen turning down work because they aren’t feeling one hundred percent? Of course you haven’t, they don’t do it. We had builders in the house last year none of them had a single day off. Every morning I could hear them through the floorboards, relentlessly coughing along to Smooth Country. It sounded like our extension was being built by a clone army of Tom Jones’s.

My Dad was a painter and decorator and my mother a hairdresser. I can’t recall them ever taking a day off. Which was a nightmare for me when I wasn’t well. They had zero sympathy, Darth Vader showed more humility than those two. I’d done my best acting too. It was up there with Macbeth. Stomach cramps, a temperature, when walking to the toilet I made sure to make use of each step, stumbling along in a dressing gown, looking like a new born chick walking for the first time. It didn’t matter, they’d have taken me into school on a stretcher and tipped me into assembly rather than let me rest at home.

Actually, this isn’t true, they would have made me walk in myself.

Everyone has got their own remedies for getting over the flu. These cover the full spectrum from pharmacy to actual witchcraft.

Most people put their faith in paracetamol and a hot water bottle. The classic combination, a double act of disease if you will. I’m a big fan of the head over a bowl of Vicks Vaporub. Visually its quite dramatic isn’t it? I still remember coming in from school to see my Dad hunched over the table, a tea towel draped over his head. It looked like I’d wandered into some sort of ritualistic sacrifice. It can be quite painful though can’t it? Sure, you can breathe easily afterwards but that eucalyptus makes your eyes look like you’ve just been tear gassed.

Vicks can be quite dangerous, especially when your brain is addled with flu. Many men have experienced that moment where you’ve forgotten you have this stuff on your hands and have casually given your undercarriage a bit of a tickle. The pain is something else. I once used a shampoo with tea tree in it, when that stuff gets on the crown jewels its almost pleasurable, but get Vicks anywhere near your privates and you’ll be doubled up in agony and asking for your Mummy.

The hot toddy, a strong whisky with lemon and herbs is a favourite with Irish folk. They swear by it, literally. Six of those and you forget you’ve even got a cold, mainly because you’re now stood in a dressing gown, shouting at traffic. It’s not a massive stretch in the imagination to think that anything with alcohol in makes you feel better is it? There is one key ingredient involved isn’t there? Alcohol. Rum, whiskey, brandy, basically anything that gets you drunk and makes you forget that you feel like a re-animated corpse and we will all down it in the name of our health!

Occasionally though someone will wade in with something so wild it catches you off guard.

“Chopped up eggs in a cup, that’s what you need”

“Yes, I do, if I was living in the middle ages! How about trying some leeches under the tongue after that? or gargling the blood of a pheasant whilst hanging upside down?”

Is this advice or a punishment?

Perhaps I could swap my bed for a torture rack and send my children down the workhouse for the week.

Chopped up eggs, really? Brilliant idea that mate, where did you get your medical degree? A truckers café? How about a couple of sausages for toothache, a rasher of bacon for my bad back or some black pudding for my sciatica?

I think I’m going to start my own remedy. Just see if I can get it to catch on. You feeling ill? What you need is to get some herbs, stem ginger and fifteen litres of used engine oil. Rub it all on your chest and then do laps of the bathroom whilst holding a live chicken and reciting passages from the Bible. Do that three times a day between meals and you’ll be back to work before the weekend.

Most of these remedies don’t work. They are like family heirlooms, passed down throughout the generations. None have been tested, none of them scrutinised, it’s all guess work. However I think we can all agree, it’s still probably more effective than Homeopathy.

Sleep, that’s the answer. Everything is solved by a good night’s sleep isn’t it? It’s hard when you’ve got a raging temperature though. Those fever dreams are scarier than Hellraiser. In one night I had to arm wrestle my accountant, build a dry stone wall with Rylan and learn to walk with six legs. I was knackered when I woke up, I’d been on more trips than Michael Palin.

So get well soon folks, rest up and relax. But do go steady with the Vicks and for God’s sake, if you’re a man, do please remember to wash your hands.



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