Friday, January 25, 2008

Man Flu

"January brings the snow," goes the nursery rhyme, and like so many ancient rhymes, it is downright wrong.

Because the only thing that January has brought to this neck of the woods, apart from shed-loads of rain, is evil and unmitigated disease.

Not, fortunately, the type of disease that makes your feet and fingers glow - that sort involves repeated exposure to nuclear waste, of which there isn't a great quantity around Chronicle Towers as far as we're aware - but the dreaded Man Flu.

A virulent plague of said malady has swept through the Towers, starting with the boss and working downwards, and threatening the very fabric of newspaper production as we know it.

After recent advances in medical science it is now recognised that there are several very different types of Man Flu.

Some practitioners describe a syndrome in which the sufferer calls in to work sick on Monday complaining of having the flu.

Recovery is swift and is generally brought about by the arrival of Tuesday, when the patient can normally be expected to be right as rain bar a few snuffles.

This form of the disease is also transmissible to children of school age, particularly those who haven't bothered to do their homework.

Its correct medical name is skivertitis, and it is definitely not what anyone has had around here.

The second identifiable strain of Man Flu is a far more serious affair. Or at least it is for those who have to put up with the patient.

In the early stages of the disease the man (it's always a man) displays all the symptoms of the common cold.

However, after a few hours he enters a delusional state in which he becomes unshakably convinced that his symptoms are those of influenza.

They aren't, but he takes to his bed and whimpers uncontrollably for lengthy periods, litters the floor with tissues and is of little or no use to man nor beast.

A gradual cure can be effected by the regular application of sympathy and mollycoddling, normally from the patient's mother or spouse.

But the speed of recovery is inversely proportional to the patient's skills at amateur dramatics, particularly in the field of moaning. The more convincing his performance, the longer the disease will take to run its course.

The old Latin name for this disease was hypochondria thespiana, but most doctors nowadays consider it as simply a mutated form of skivertitis.

Worryingly for the future, though, medical researchers have recently discovered a third and more virulent strain of Man Flu: one which affects women.

The medical symptoms are infinitely more severe (and more genuine) than those of Man Flu proper, and cannot be completely alleviated even by the introduction of small bunches of flowers and gentle cooing noises.

No-one yet understands how this type of Man Flu made the inter-species jump, but what is known is that the initial infection has severe knock-on effects on men who come into close proximity with the patient.

In a recent well-documented case, a man whose wife had succumbed to the virus felt obliged to take on domestic tasks which in normal circumstances would not have been entrusted to him.

And while his motives were honourable, he soon discovered that there is little point in loading up the tumble drier with damp laundry if you don't know which button you're supposed to press to start the thing.

Similarly, a weekly supermarket trip put him under such severe stress that he lost his ability to read shopping lists, interpreting the phrase "lots of bananas" as "two bags of bananas", a misunderstanding so grave that he has still not been allowed to forget it even after the patient's near-complete recovery.

Children are affected, too: they suddenly find themselves watching far more telly than usual, and complain that simple grilled bacon "tastes funny" because Mum hasn't cooked it.

No, January is a cruel month with nothing whatsoever to recommend it.

And not even the promise of February just around the corner is particularly enticing.

The ancient rhyme promises rain, which "thaws the frozen lake again". But we've already had two months' worth of precipitation in the first three weeks of the year, so what can be next?

Plagues of boils, most likely. They can't be any worse than the Man Flu.

This column was first published in The Bath Chronicle on January 24 2008. Copyright Bath News & Media 2008.

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