“She’s dry as a witch’s tit, sir!” Some bank holiday cheer for anyone feeling a little under the weather…
For the last 48 hours, I’ve been at war. However placid I may be in my natural state, when invaded by germs hell-bent on turning my internals into that green goo from Dr Who, I tend to kick off. For a while there, it looked as if they had the upper hand: First, they came for my voice, next for my nose and lungs, and then, while I was rushing about tending to these, they came for my bottom. However, what they hadn’t banked on was my British resilience in the face of extreme adversity. That, like any great military strategist, I could and would play the long game, feigning weakness and ineptitude when, in fact, I was building up to a mighty show of strength which would conclusively put them to rout. Something like this:
Germ A: He’s going into the bathroom, men! Weakest to the fore!!! WEAKEST TO THE FORE!!!
Germ B: It’s ok, sir! He’s only having a huey in the sink. No great loss.
Germ A: Right. Get a message over to Nasal Production without delay. We’re going for a massive push in ten.
Germ B: He’s got a new loo roll by the bed! They’ll be toast in seconds. If Bottom Bay gets cracking now, we stand more of a chance of catching him off guard when he goes back in.
Germ A: How many rolls?
Germ B: Not sure, sir. Maybe we should send a few privates up to the throat? They can have a quick butchers when he’s bent over the khazi.
Germ A: Too risky. We’re down on mucus and we’ll need everything we have for when he starts necking the Benylin.
Germ B: Benylin, sir?
Germ A: Yes, bloody Benylin!!! It was on the sideboard.
Germ B: That changes the rules somewhat. How long do you think we have?
Germ A: Long enough to play merry hell with his bottom. Now get on with it!
Germ B: Germ B to Bottom Bay, Germ B to Bottom Bay, open all sluice gates now. I repeat, open sluice gates now!
Bottom Bay: Bottom Bay to Germ B, Bottom Bay to Germ B. We have a problem. The gates are wide but there’s nowt coming out. Urgently request reinforcements from Chest and/or Throat Depts. She’s dry as a witch’s tit, sir!
Germ B: MAYDAY!!! MAYDAY!!! ALL MUCUS ZONES TO PROCEED TO BOTTOM BAY AT ONCE. THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!!! DO NOT HANG ABOUT!!!
Germ A: He’s got quilted!!! Bail out now!!!
Germ B: Too late! I’ve instructed all departments to head south.
Germ A: Oh my good God! It’s done. He was too good for us this time. Give my regards to your wife and family and should we survive, perhaps a drink at the Criterion when it’s all over?
Germ B: Indeed. And may I say it was an honour to serve under you?
Germ A: You may. Goodbye, B.
Germ B: Goodbye, sir.
In May 2013, I made an appointment with a certain Dr Nunn for a routine blood test. Apparently you’re meant to do this sort of thing when the ratio of your years left on the planet versus years already used up, tips unfavourably towards the latter. I made light of any reasoning behind it, of course, suggesting that my request was purely investigative and of no great consequence. However, Dr Nunn is no fool. Looking straight past the saffron-tinted jellies through which I decipher the world and deep into the very core of my being, he offered me a seat next to the computer. Then he made me wait. For eons.
Time slows down to a crawl when you know you’ve been rumbled. The skinny document containing my records was theatrically scrutinised, and accusatory glances from over the top of his half-moon glasses were staged for maximum gravitas. I knew what was coming next:
Dr Nunn: Smoker?
Me: Er…Not really. The occasional puff, perhaps.
Dr Nunn: How many?
Me: Hmm…Depends on my week, I suppose! (laughs nervously)
Dr Nunn: I’ll put you down for twenty. Sound about right?
Me: Absolutely. (rapid blinking)
Dr Nunn: What about alcohol? How many units per week?
Me: Units? I’m not really sure, to be honest. How do you…
Dr Nunn: Someone of your age should be looking at no more than one or two small glasses of wine a night. Preferably with breaks in between. The liver isn’t a miracle worker.
Me: I see. I think it would be fair to say I do drink a little more than that. Not always, and I do try to keep it to…
Dr Nunn: I need a straight answer. Or we’re both wasting each others time, aren’t we?
Me: Yes, I’m sorry. Well, on the odd occasion it has been known for me to get through half a bottle of red wine in the evening, and sometimes a beer or two.
Dr Nunn: How often?
Me: Every night.
Dr Nunn: No more than that?
Me: No. (swallows)
Dr Nunn: Right, I need you to come back next week. Give this in at reception, they’ll make another appointment for you.
Me: Thanks very much for…
Dr Nunn: Goodbye.
I looked down at the printout thrust into my hand. There, in a little box marked ‘Relevant Clinical Details’ was the evidence statisticians and the red tops pay top dollar for, no doubt to keep social pariahs such as myself out of the surgeries: ‘Screen: High Alcohol.’ And it works. Because I never went back. If half a bottle of pinot and a hop-based aperitif counts as alcohol abuse, my return visit would have seen Dr Nunn strapping me into some kind of detox seat, like Alex from A Clockwork Orange, forcing me to watch endless loops of waterfalls and Bavarian milkmaids until I recanted my feckless ways. Do me a favour…
Oh God, it’s happening. It’s the beginning of the end, and coming at me faster than Usain Bolts’ departure from the Virgin Media ads. With every week that passes, a new and unfamiliar ailment jumps to the head of the queue and blots out the severity of the previous, leaving precious little time to acclimatise or, dare I say it, learn the niceties of co-existence. Here, have a taste:
First it’s the kidneys, kicking off at the rigorous programme I’ve been putting them through of late and behaving like the Greece of the lower back. Then it’s the gums, truculent and bloody, demanding I treat them to a darn good sonic seeing-to with a new brush that cost more than my bicycle did in 1977. Next up it’s the calf muscles, miserable cowards that they are, waking me up regularly at stupid’o’clock with a muscle spasm known to our friends over the pond as Charley Horse. CHARLEY HORSE? It’s cramp, for Christ’s sake, not the Campdown Races. And if all these weren’t enough, the ears now want in on the act. Yep, just to spice things up a little they’ve chucked in a dose of tinnitus for good measure. So now my entire conscious world is soundtracked to the exact same monotonous whine that accompanied the test card when the fat controllers wanted you to go to bed.
But one has to be fatalistic, no? The alternative is a slow morph into Mrs Brady Old Lady, bemoaning every malady to a captive Saturday morning Post Office queue that understandably only wishes a few more on her. So instead, let’s think of it this way: Someone up there does not want me to be an Olympian, that’s clear, and this brutal truth frees me up to be a magnificent spectator. Now I can enjoy the success of others vicariously from the comfort of a hostelry of choice, without all that unpleasant sweating and grunting. This ain’t no handicap, folks, this is an open door. When the great unwashed are jostling for position along the Mall to cop a glance at her maj, I shall be enjoying the easy access lavatories on ground level at the Idle Hour, a pint of Harveys in one hand and a festive menu in the other. And, as the Thames Pageant glides down the Thames in all its splendour, I’ll be hearing all about it, third hand, from some bloke who once met that other bloke who broke into the Queens bedroom for a right royal chat. Top geezer, apparently.
So my advice, for what it’s worth, is this: We’re all a bit broken, can’t change that, but don’t let that put you off. Celebrate the flaws, and if you so happen to be an SW13 resident, watch this space for further Royal/Olympic updates to your favourite local. Nibs told me to put them in here but I’m blowed if I can remember what they are…