Category Archives: Illness

Soup, tea, hot toddies and Grandads – Notes on a cold

Image taken from Smabs Sputzer's Flickr photostrea and used under Creative Commons license

Image taken from Smabs Sputzer’s Flickr photostream and used under Creative Commons license

It started with a tickle.

Just an innocuous little tickle at the back of my throat.  Nothing to be all that worried about. I blamed it on hayfever. Or allergies. Or a minor sniffle due to being a bit run-down. But over the course of the next few days, it grew and grew. I spent most of (the always amazing) Supersonic festival attempting to ignore it by pouring industrial amounts of whiskey, Jamaican ginger beer and jerk chicken laced with a fiery peppery sauce down my throat. But it was to no avail. By the time I called my Dad on Monday evening and spent five minutes convincing him that yes, this woman who did sound like a third rate Deirdre Barlow impersonator was indeed his eldest child, I knew the jig was up. I had a cold.

I hate being ill. As someone who spends most of their life flitting from city to city, the thought of spending days confined in bed doing nothing makes me itchy. I regress to being a child – one who wants someone to tuck them up, make them tea and fetch them Beecham’s Powders. I get lonely. I think about how much fun being ill was when I was a kid. I miss my Grandad.

My Grandad John came to live with us when I was twelve. My Nana June had just died, my Mum wanted to return to the workplace, and it seemed a good fit. He was a man unlike any other I’ve ever met before or since – one who once painted the inside of an oven (My Nana attempted to cook a pie in it, and it blew up, causing her to fly across the kitchen before repeatedly belting him around the head) and whose favourite post-work snack was a block of Stork Margarine dipped in strawberry jam. He resided in our conservatory like a wise old owl who always had a mug of tea in one hand, and a John Player’s Special in the other. During his time in our household, he acted as teacher, study aide, relationships counsellor, human alarm clock, and the World’s Worst Cook. (His ‘signature dish’ was a concoction of chicken breast smothered in Homepride curry sauce, served over half boil-in-the-bag rice, half oven chips. He also once infamously gave my ex-boyfriend food poisoning from some undercooked sausages.) However, where he really came into his own was a Nurse.

Whenever I had the flu, or tonsillitis or any of the other myriad nasty childhood illnesses we carry with us from the playground, he’d make my parents living room our plague battleground. Duvets would be whipped off beds, and the downstairs sofa would be turned into a sumptuous recliner fit for a Empress, full of cushions, pillows and blankets. He’d always make me Cream of Tomato soup with white bread soldiers (always Warburton’s Toastie –  usually a banned substance in my parents household), and – if circumstances were exceedingly dire – a Hot Toddy with perhaps just a smidgen more whisky than was really necessary.  Together we’d watch Watercolour Challenge and Countdown hudded together in that overheated living room like a pair of thieves.

My Grandad has been dead for four years now, but I still try and conjure up the memory of those days spent together whenever I’m ill. Heinz Cream of Tomato soup and tea, hot toddies and Countdown… all these comforting little things which make the past feel as though it’s within touching distance, but at the same time, so incredibly far away.

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Comfort and Joy

All of the warning signs were there on Sunday morning when I woke up. Sore throat. Sore eyes. Sore limbs. Even a sore nose. At the time I just put it down to the fact I’d necked a bottle of red wine with a couple of whisky chasers the night before. But as the day progressed and every part of me grew progressively more achy, I knew I couldn’t avoid the truth any longer. I had a cold. Usually I can fight my way through colds and sniffles with aid of Lemsip and Day Nurse cocktails, but this appeared to be a slightly more insidious creature. Every time I opened my mouth to speak, my bunged-up sinuses made me sound like a man. The cries of next door’s baby coming through our living room walls made my head ache to the point of tears. It was time to make like a Victorian heroine, and head to my bed.

As a rule, I hate being ill. Gone are the days where, as a child, I’d use my Winter chills as an excuse to stay off school and watch daytime TV on the sofa, all wrapped up in my Care Bears duvet like a large snotty worm. Years of crap jobs where you’d have to be dying before you didn’t come in have managed to put the fear of God into me when it comes to sickness. I remember how – on one memorable occasion – my boss accused me of trying to bunk off with a hangover when I actually had  a very severe respiratory infection. She only believed me when I came into work and coughed so hard that I threw up all over my desk. Amidst the excruciating shame I felt at making such a tit of myself in public, I also felt a certain pride. “There you go. I TOLD you I was ill.’

Illness makes me regress. As soon I start sniffling, I immediately gravitate towards the things which are guaranteed to bring me comfort. Huge, steaming hot mugs of tea. My old teddy bear, Ru-Ru who I’ve had since I was five, and who I squeezed tightly whilst in the grips of numerous childhood ailments. Cream of Tomato soup with thick, gummy slices of Warburtons white ‘Toasty’ bread. Egg and Chips with extra ketchup. It’s as though all of my adult desires decide to go on holiday for a few days whilst I sit around in my pyjamas feeling sorry for myself. I even caught myself having a little cry for my Mum yesterday. I am 28 years old, and more than capable of taking care of myself. I’d have called my Mum, but I’m scared she would have laughed at me. Besides, the poor cow has a broken ankle at the moment. She can barely hobble down the road, let alone get on a train to Liverpool to come and nurse her eldest daughter who really should know better.

The only adult culinary desires I crave when I’m ill are (unsurprisingly) alcoholic ones. Whilst I’m not the kind of girl who attempts to chase her blues away with a couple of pints of Stella, I will never turn down a Hot Toddy – surely the best cure for the common cold ever created. As I’ve mentioned here before, my Grandad John made the best Hot Toddies I’ve ever tasted. I think it’s because he used to put slightly more whisky in them than was strictly necessary. I always miss him when I’m ill. I miss his wisdom, the mad stories about what he used to get up to when my Nana June was alive, and he had nine kids to look after. He’s still the only man I’ve ever met who once painted the inside of an oven, and who used to snack on bars of Stork Margarine smothered in strawberry jam and dipped in tea (which always, always had six sugars in it). No wonder he lost all his teeth by the age of 40.

Another thing I crave when I’m ill is my Bubbie’s infamous Chicken Soup. Jewish penicillin she calls it. Every girl with a Jewish grandmother will always deem their Bubbie’s Chicken soup to be the best. However, I’m different in that I know that my Bubbie’s Chicken Soup is the best. To me, she will always be the best and most fearless cook I know  – a woman who can work an eight hour day, whip up a three course meal and wash it all down with a gallon of booze. I’d like to think I take after her in some ways.

Making chicken soup might to you seem like the easiest thing in the world. But somehow, I can never get mine to taste as good as my Bubbies. My matzo ball dumplings never taste right, although I always follow her recipe to the letter (adding sparkling water to the matzo dumplings and just the right amount of schmaltz). My broth always lacks that certain something. Whilst it tastes good on the spoon, it lacks that sensory whirl which always takes me back to being five years old, stood in my Grandparents apartment in Florida, learning to tie my shoelaces and watching Teddy Ruxpin. I crave my Bubbie at times like this. I’d ask her to FedEx some over to me, but somehow I doubt that U.S. Homeland Security would be too keen on huge vats of soup coming through customs. Also, knowing my luck they’d probably end up blowing it sky high thinking it was a peculiarly archaic form of germ warfare.

So, I’m on my own. This cold will pass, and before I know it, I’ll be back in my kitchen, up to my eyeballs in exotic sauces and balls of dough. But until then, I’ll rejoice in regression. In comfort food. In Boiled Eggs and Soldiers and cups of tea. Just until the sneezing stops.

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