When the malady lingered on

‘There’s a lot of it about’: Paul Barnes finds the phrase a cold comfort...

I’ve never been all that superstitious, apart from a reluctance to walk under ladders, never cutting my nails on Sundays, and being uneasy at the sight of a solo magpie, but this year Friday the Thirteenth of January caused me to wonder. That was the day that the seasonal microbes decided to strike, swarming aboard like Somali pirates on an oil tanker.

Of course, they’d been scheming for hours in advance. During that marvellous dinner on the twelfth in the radiant and witty company of close friends, with good wine, fine food and an excellent single malt to follow, the furtive bacteria were massing to attack. Overnight the skirmishing started as my antibodies fought back. I woke with a cough that was fierce enough to splinter ribs, runny eyes and a nose to match.

I managed to drag myself to the BBC at eleven o’clock on Saturday night to present the week’s ration of “rhythm and rhubarb”. Ella Fitzgerald, Artie Shaw and Count Basie worked their magic, helping lift the spirits. There was magic too in reminders of the witty singing and fine piano playing of Buddy Greco who’d died a few days earlier. But my voice was going downhill; it sounded like a cross between Louis Armstrong and a chute-full of nutty slack, dying eventually almost to a squeaky whisper.

The sympathy vote was going my way. The programme may be broadcast on local radio in East Anglia but the world tunes in and kind words poured in from China, Indonesia, Finland, Ukraine, Western Australia, Greece, France; hot lemon and ginger with honey was urged on me from Connecticut. It was all soothing, and touching, but the malady lingered on. Alarmingly, the eyes were gummed up, and the ears.


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“There’s a lot of it about.” I was to hear that quite a lot. Rather comforting, really, to learn you’re not alone, to know that all around there are others lurching from hour to hour with sore chests and aching throats, croaking in whispers, with gummy eyes and muffled hearing.

Energy diminished to a depressing level. I love and relish the music that makes up the radio programme but I couldn’t rally the will even to begin selecting items for the next week’s instalment. For a week I tried fighting the microbes by keeping hydrated with hot herbal drinks and pints of cold water. They did some good, but not quite enough. I capitulated and saw my cheerful GP, rattling into his stethoscope. Good news. It was a bacterial infection, not a virus, so dear old Auntie Biotic could be unleashed on the blighters, chasing them through my system with swishing skirts and a rolled umbrella.

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It took time. I had to miss a couple of shows. Sweet Anna stood in for me. “You have big shoes to fill,” she said. “I have old shoes,” I replied. Now it’s back to business as usual, though when out for a run my breathing still sounds sometimes like a rusty hinge.

I do hope the microbes pass you by. But if they don’t, take comfort. You aren’t alone. There’s a lot of it about.

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