Thursday, January 1, 2009

Cold Comfort

When I was sick and lay a-bed
I had two pillows at my head
and all my toys around me lay
to keep me happy all the day.

Sometimes for an hour or so
I'd watch my leaden soldiers go
in different uniforms and drills
among the bedclothes, through the hills.

I sometimes sent my ships in fleets
all up and down the pillow sheets
or brought my trees and houses out
and planted cities all about.

And I was the giant, great and still
who sits upon the pillow-hill
and sees before him, dale and plain
the pleasant land of counterpane.
The Land of Counterpane – Robert Louis Stevenson

I've loved that poem ever since I was a child. It always sounded so 'English' to me--quaint, simple yet powerful--and now I get to live it. That's right, after having prepared an optimistic list of all the things I wanted to do today, I came down with the 'man-flu.' It's just a scratchy throat and a stuffy head, but I'm making the most of it. I may not have a squadron of leaden soldiers at my disposal, but at least I have my AlphaSmart Neo, a box of tissues and cup of Lemsip.

Like many men, I don't do 'sick' well but, fortunately, I don't do it very often, either. In the seven years I've been here, I have missed only one day of work through sickness. And if today hadn't been a holiday, I would have gone to the office (I also would have probably made pathetic noises until they let me go home, so I'm just as glad I don't have to go through that).

I could tell I was going to get sick when, the day before yesterday, I had a sudden craving for chicken rice soup. Now, no one in my family is Jewish so I can't tell you how I acquired this belief that chicken soup ranks on a par with penicillin as one of the world's great medicines, it's just something I've always known. (For the record, my wife's maternal grandfather was Jewish, but there's little advantage in that outside of some great nosh at certain family gatherings and, of course, a shared belief in the power of chicken stock and matzo meal.)

From the time I was a teenager, whenever I became ill with a sore throat and/or a cold, I would make my special concoction--Campbell's Chicken and Rice soup as a base, with added Minute Rice and lots of garlic and salt. It didn't always make me well, but it never failed to make me feel better.

When I experienced my first cold in England, there was a bit of confusion as I attempted to cobble together a respectable substitute without benefit of the key components but I managed to come up with a new recipe using indigenous ingredients that more than fits the bill.

The fact that it is miracle food is a no-brainer: it warms you up inside, the garlic opens your airways and the salt sooths your throat. But the most potent ingredient is belief: you believed it would make you better, because your mother told you so (this is even more potent if it is a Jewish mother). In my case, I just had to muster up my own faith, but that seemed enough.

I made a big pot of the special soup that first night. I finished it last night. Today I'm still sick. Bugger. It must be my mother's lack of faith.

This means I need to rely on my fallback strategy: kill or cure. The idea is to take a glass of whiskey and a cigar out on the balcony and sit in the cold, smoking and drinking, until I convince whatever it is living inside me that it will be a lot more comfortable somewhere else.

I've successfully employed this method on several occasions; I am not, however, suggesting that whiskey and cigars are good for you, more that the belief in something is often enough.

This time, I'm not so sure my faith is up to it. First of all, it's bloody cold out there, and a glass of whiskey and a cigar, at this point, is not going to help (plus, there is the disturbing idea that it's called "kill or cure" for a reason).

No, I think this time I'm putting my faith in a nice hot cup of Lemsip and a visit to that pleasantly familiar comfort from my youth--the land of counterpane.


  1. Mike

    I like the sound of your "Kill or Cure" it seems to equate well with my own remedy - Retire to bed with one full bottle of whisky (brand and age of your choice) - get into bed and then drink the whisky. It won't cure the cold in the slightest, but you won't care about it any longer!

    As you started off with your choice of poetry about being ill - here, for your delicatation, is my choice, your wife will tell you about the writer (try and imagine a gentle west country accent when reading the verses)....

    Oh No - I Got A Cold
    by Pam Ayres

    I am sitting on the sofa.
    By the fire and staying in.
    Me head is free of comfort
    And me nose is free of skin
    Me friends have run for cover,
    They have left me pale and sick
    With me pockets full of tissues
    And me nostrils full of Vick

    That bloke in the telly adverts,
    He's supposed to have a cold.
    He has a swig of whatnot
    And he drops off, good as gold,
    His face like snowing harvest
    Slips into sweet repose.
    Well I bet this tortured breathing
    Never whistled down his nose.

    I burnt me bit of dinner
    Cause I've lost me sense of smell,
    But then, I couldn't taste it,
    So that worked out very well,
    I'd buy some, down the cafe,
    But I know that at the till,
    A voice from work will softly say
    "I thought that you were ill".

    So I'm wrapped up in a blanket
    With me feet up on a stool,
    I've watched the telly programmes
    And the kids come home from school,
    But what I haven't watched for
    Is any sympathy,
    Cause all you ever get is:
    "Oh no, keep away from me!"

    Medicinal discovery,
    It moves in mighty leaps,
    It leapt straight past the common cold
    And gave it us for keeps.
    Now I'm not a fussy woman,
    There's no malice in me eye
    But I wish that they could cure
    the common cold. That's all. Goodbye.

    Happy New Year

    (get well soon)

  2. Wow, a bonus poem. Thanks!

  3. Chicken soup's a bit namby pamby Mike. Hasn't anyone told you about the hot toddy. A bit like the afore mentioned whisky, but you add hot lemon and honey to it. Soothes your throat and makes you sleep. Or at least that's what we brits tell everyone.
    Happy New year.

  4. Hi Mike,

    I'm sorry that you're feeling ill. I'm with ex-pat mum on this, get a couple of hot toddies down your neck. They won't cure you, but you'll feel a whole lot better. Trust me on this one. :-)

    Happy New Year.

  5. Hot Toddies - hmmmm, I sense a bit of practical research coming up.

  6. I agree with Expat Mum on the hot toddy. My mum always used to give us a hot water bottle and Vicks on your chest too. That little combination makes you feel nurtured and will do wonders for your man-cold!
    Hope you feel better soon.

  7. Happy play, and get well soon!
    I wish you all the best for 2009, and thank you for keeping us entertained so well!

  8. Pam: I used to get the Vicks treatment, too. Fond memories. Back to work today to I must be better. I could have used another day to laze around and do nothing, but couldn't we all?

  9. Fida: Thanks! And Happy New Year to you.