You know that the British winter has well and truly arrived when you go down with your first cold. This year, mine has arrived with a vengeance, probably because my other half went down with a nasty shivery ‘flu-like bug, which I didn’t catch. I was feeling very smug, assuming my good health reflected my healthy lifestyle (?!) and robust immune system.
How are the mighty fallen. I’m now several days and an industrial quantity of tissues into a real humdinger of a cold, with a chesty cough, runny nose, achy limbs, blocked sinuses and red eyes. I’m surrounded by the paraphernalia of disease: a jug of squash ("drink lots of fluid"), boxes of tissues (man-sized, of course), and enough sachets and bottles of selected cold remedies to keep pharmaceutical companies’ shares buoyant for weeks.
Apparently, we Brits have the worst record of ear, nose and throat infections on the planet, thanks to our variable, damp climate, high population density (a crowded, stuffy tube is the perfect infection vessel for the cold virus, especially for those who seem oblivious to the convention of covering their face when they sneeze), under-heated homes and lousy diet. Of course, we like to think that it’s just another of those things that contributes to the superior moral fibre that helped build an Empire: a literally phlegmatic approach to life, coasting though adversity, and all that.
The reality, of course, is that we’re just as pathetic as the next nation. We take weeks off work (or, worse still, play the martyr, go in and infect everyone else). We try every half-baked alternative therapy available. Everyone talks it up ("Oh, I had the 'flu yesterday"). But there’s also a difference between the sexes: “man flu” sees beefy rugby players taking to their beds like slighted five-year-olds, while women just carry on, clocking up overtime at the office, managing the family home, doing the shopping, writing the Christmas cards – and all with a temperature of 102.
On the brighter side, there are, of course, great compensations to having a cold. There’s something incredibly indulgent about being wrapped up in bed, all snug and cosy, in the middle of the day. Your other half has to show you sympathy – you’re poorly, remember? And it’s a great excuse for wonderful comfort food – wounded soldiers, mashed potato, shepherd’s pie, puddings with custard.
Then there are those traditional remedies: rum, honey and hot water for the sore throat, hot toddies for the cold, ginger wine to clear the sinuses. Fabulous. Sup enough and even daytime television becomes palatable. You’ve got a headache anyway, so what’s another hangover?
There are, apparently, many recipes for the perfect hot toddy. Some use Scotch, others bourbon, and still others, rum. All can be enlivened by a splash of lemon, or spiced up with cloves, and there’s the obligatory dash of hot water. The beauty is that you can play around with the recipe, supping one after the other, all in a good cause. (But not, I can hear my doctor say, while taking paracetamol. No matter – ibuprofen works well enough).
So, as you rush around preparing for Christmas, think of all those of us, wrapped up, hot toddy in hand, watching Countdown this afternoon. Perhaps it’s not so bad after all...