There’s something inevitable about getting the flu at Christmas.
Just like a repeat of Love Actually. It comes around in December, you do everything you can to avoid it, you end up giving in and then feel angry afterwards about all of the wasted time.
I placed a curse on myself this year by looking forward to the holidays too much. The present shopping was done early and well. The baking was successful enough that I didn’t have to pretend that my mince pies were some ironic gesture against consumerist perfection.
And I was in my own house, where I’m most comfortable.
And where my son introduces every bug, infection and contagion he picks up at that breeding ground of disease some refer to as school.
I give him food, clothes, toys, emotional stability, love and the benefits of my experience and wisdom. He gives me the fecking flu.
And just to avoid confusion, it’s the real thing this time. Not the usual ‘man’ version which strikes me every few weeks, lays me low for an hour or two but then conveniently scarpers when it’s feeding time.
No, this is the real thing. Endless days in bed watching repeats of Dallas. Shivering, coughing, sweating, spluttering, aching, excreting, barking, wheezing, snotting, moaning, sweating, throbbing, wailing, suffering. It’s the ‘I almost had to put an appeal on social media to get someone to come round to take me to the toilet’ flu.
My wife and son fell first while I admirably marched on with the Christmas preparations.
The Santa experience was enjoyable, if a little more subdued than usual, as my boy battled bravely against a raging temperature.
I spent hours in the kitchen preparing Christmas dinner. I could feel the malign symptoms coming on but, like the climate change denier, refused to accept the overwhelming evidence.
I fed all the family, pulled the crackers, refilled the wine glasses, set the pudding on fire (by intent), exchanged embraces, smiled, waved goodbye, closed the door and…..crawled into bed.
I had just enough strength to Google ‘Winter flu 2017’ where the first two articles were entitled ‘Should I worry?’ and ‘Should we fear the worst?’ ‘Yes! Yes!’ I heard myself call. I read an article from some professor of molecular virology which said that this flu virus had come all the way from Australia and was in a bad mood.
I went on to read a few articles from the Daily Mail and Daily Express which said, essentially, that the flu was going to kill every living thing on earth (although I do accept I may have passed over into delirium by this point).
Christmas night was spent trying vainly to master techniques I used to be quite good at – sleeping, moving, breathing. Snot bunged up my nose like an inexperienced and over-enthusiastic glue-sniffer. I lay there miserably for hours suffering uncontrollable bouts of shivering and throbbing muscle pain (and not in a good way).
The morning brought little relief. My head felt like it had been put through a cycle of the washing machine without fabric conditioner. A journey of even a few steps felt like an expedition to the Antarctic. I eventually made it to the bathroom only to find that fecker Amundsen had got there 33 days previously and hadn’t bothered to flush the toilet.
But I had greater worries ahead. I needed supplies. My emergency stores of Lemsips were exhausted and I found the Calpol just wasn’t doing it for me.
I would have to leave the house.
More, I would have to leave the house and go to the shopping centre in the middle of Boxing Day sales.
Somehow I hauled myself upright and pulled on some old clothes. I stumbled outside like a baby antelope taking his first steps and began to defrost the car.
I saw a neighbour approach.
I tried to hide but there was no spot for refuge. I attempted to blend in to the colour of my car.
‘Hi Jonny! Did you have a lovely Christmas?’
‘Aye, and did the wee man enjoy it?’
‘Um…I think so.’
‘It’s all really for the kids now, isn’t it?’
‘It’s all got so commercial now, hasn’t it?’
‘Well that’s it all as far away as ever now.’
‘So, are you heading out?’
‘Just to the chemist, I’ve got the flu.’
‘Yeah, I thought you weren’t looking too good there. When you’ve got the flu you really know you’ve got the flu.’
‘There’s a lot of it going round.’
‘You know what you need? Some echinacea.’
‘Make sure and keep wrapped up. And drink plenty of fluids.’
Never has a windscreen taken so long to defrost.
But eventually I’m driving around the shopping centre car park searching for a spot. I win a game of chicken with an old woman as we both dart towards the last remaining space (I’m beyond caring and civility).
The crowds are formidable. It might be merely a reflection of my mood but the jollity of the pre-Christmas shopper seems absent now. There’s something more mercenary and ruthless about the sales shopper. There’s a ‘get out of my way’ look in too many eyes.
I find the Boots store but by now I’m overcome with a desperate desire to get back to my bed. I grab a basket and blindly empty a shelf-full of cough and flu remedies into it.
The front of the queue is like a distant mirage.
My nose is running uncontrollably so I have to grab a box of tissues from a shelf and bung my nostrils shut like a leaky dam.
I get to the counter. The assistant is matronly and peers at me over her glasses. I’m shivering, red-eyed, shrunken and with bits of paper protruding from my nose. I feel like I should be holding a bell.
‘Are these items for you sir?’ she asks.
‘No, they’re for fecking Lord Lucan!’ I have to try very hard to stop myself from bellowing.
‘You know you can’t take this with this. They’ve both got paracetamol’ she adds, pointing to two boxes.
Of course I can take that with that. What, I presume, she means is that I should not take this with this. But it hardly seems the moment for pedantry.
‘OK,’ I whimper.
I throw notes at her and flee the store. I don’t remember very much about getting home but I must have made it safely because I woke up this morning, still shivering, with bottles and boxes strewn around me like a heroin addict’s dirty needles.
I’m still in bed. I intend to stay here for some time.