Chicken Soup à la Française

In the course of my life I’ve been sick very few times—actually sick: bedridden and feverish, I mean. I’ve tried to be sick many times at 6 am before going to school; unfortunately, my mother was too smart for that! Then there’s the time I spent two weeks in hospital after having my appendix removed. ‘It was almost peritonitis’, the doctor said. That means it was about to burst and cause all kinds of purulent mayhem inside me. And, of course, there’s the couple of kidney stones I passed and hope to never pass again. But if I were to say I used to fall ill only once every two years, even with something as mild as the common cold, that would be a fair estimation. Sniffles and the few allergies aside, or even the odd irritated throat from that bad habit of breathing through my mouth, I could safely say that until quite recently I’ve always been, if not a poster child, at least a fat rosy Victorian postcard babe of good health. That is, until I came to live in Europe, whereupon everything just fell apart.

As it stands, I now count myself very lucky if I manage to go through six months without getting actually sick at least once: bedridden, feverish—Normally it’s the change of season that does it, if nothing else. But, then, there’s the chronic throbbing sore throats and coughing bouts, and the head colds in midsummer, which baffle me greatly. The sore throats I can somewhat control through large quantities of vitamin C, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less aggravating. I’ve never really learnt to blow my nose, so a runny nose is generally just another use for my sweater sleeves. And head colds are a real pain—literally—but there’s always caffeine and aspirin. It’s the coughs that get on my nerves. They’re basically the worst, for there’s no way of getting rid of them and they usually come about at night, when everything is silent and bleak, so your drama really feels Dickensian. 

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In the End There’s Toilet Roll

So we’re all cooped up in our homes and finding new ways of baking that 5-kilogram bag of flour into things that hopefully look somewhat different. Bread. Scones. Pizza—Hope against hope, on we bake through the sheer and the rough. The world is sidling its way around the shallow end of a deep puddle and we’re all in an indefinite sustained state of quarantine and social distancing, an interlude from life as we’ve come to know it… To the point where one can safely begin an essay with a conjunction without worrying too much about the consequences! Really, who cares? There are more dire necessities—for one thing, toilet roll.

I’m of course referring to what will in future be called by scholars The Great Toilet Paper Rush of 2020, caused by perhaps the most unexpected expected disaster to face humanity in at least 102 years. (Except for that other time we all didn’t agree that Global Warming was a thing and in one or two generations the wallpaper was peeling off the walls—but I’m getting too far ahead of myself.) One thing for which apocalyptic zombie movies didn’t prepare us was people scuffling in the streets for little rolls of white paper pulp. That’s at least one thing every soapbox Nostradamus surely got wrong: hold the toilet roll and you shall finally drive civilisation into that chasm out of which it once climbed. This lack of imagination on their part doesn’t at all surprise me: I can understand panic-buying canned foods, meats, rubbing alcohol and hand sanitiser, even biscuits and chocolate, but I don’t think I would’ve ever thought of toilet paper as a basic human necessity. Indeed, having been introduced en masse to the west as recently as mid 1800s, and considering there are western countries even today that choose to do without, as commodities go this one is by no means so deeply ingrained in our culture as to run parallel with our constitutional rights. And yet visiting a supermarket less than two weeks back one would certainly think otherwise. 

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