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.