John B Keane: the uncommon nature of the cold

LAST WEEK I was forced to undergo medical treatment for the universal malady, the common cold.

LAST WEEK I was forced to undergo medical treatment for the universal malady, the common cold.

It was anything but common, as far as I was concerned, since it confined me to bed for a day and a half and spoiled the taste of my porter, a pint or two of which I am in the habit of taking at night.

In addition, I had a running nose for three days and nights, and my supply of handkerchiefs was not great enough to meet demand.

But now it’s passed, and I am thankful. Its germs are dispersed, and I can distinguish between the taste of good porter and bad.

My taste is back and now when I eat a sausage I know it’s a sausage I am eating and not a black pudding.

To be honest, I have often used the common cold as a pretext for not going places, but, then, tell me who hasn’t?

An uncle of mine, who was destined for America and who grew homesick at the last minute, announced that he could not go because he had a cold in the nose.

His excuse was accepted and he is now the happiest of small farmers on the road to Ballybunion.

He has had colds in the nose since, but they have not prevented him from important excursions, such as the dogs in Limerick or the football finals in Croke Park. This cold of mine, as I said, is gone, but I am now seeking the source from where it sprung in the first place, and I now happily conclude that the fault is nobody’s but my own.

Insidiously it investigated my possibilities in the back seat of a motor car on the road from Limerick.

The window was down since all the occupants were smoking cigarettes, with exception of the driver, who smoked a pipe.

I felt the change in temperature on the back of my neck and put forward that we stop in Abbeyfeale for a jorum.

Jorum, incidentally, is the bog Latin for a drink of any kind, cordials, minerals and other non-intoxicating stimulants excepted.

We stopped at a pub and I had three bottles of beer. This was my first mistake. I should have taken a glass of rum or whiskey during my own round, which was first, and reduced it to a half a glass during the rounds which were to follow.

“I think I am getting the ‘flu!” I said, when we got back into the car.

“Would you by any chance have taken it off the bitch?” The driver took the pipe from his mouth to say this.

Perhaps I should have mentioned that there was a greyhound bitch in the back of the car with us, a six-to-four joint favourite who obliged the bookies by coming second.

The bitch, as if she knew she were under discussion, looked up at me out of innocuous and watery eyes and I knew she hadn’t hand act or part in my predicament.

“Take two glasses of hot rum when you go home,” somebody else said.

“Yes, and after that,” said a third voice, “swally a fist if aspirins and sweat it out in bed.”

The following morning my eyes were brock-filled, my nose blocked and my taste surrendered to the whims of my illness. I wouldn’t have minded it so much but there was steak and kidney stew for dinner.

We still say “dinner” around this part of the world because “lunch” is regarded as a filler-in which youngsters take to school with them.

All through the day and the next I was confined to bed, but on the following day I was feeling better.

On the fourth day I knew I was cured because on the way down the street for the paper I enjoyed from one house the haunting and incomparable aroma of bacon and cabbage and from another the unmistakable smell of steak and onions.

On my way back I met a housewife who enquired after my health.

“I heard you were knocking up,” she said.

“Wisha,” says I, “‘twas nothing but a bit of a cold,”

“I hate to see Jack getting a cold,” she said. Jack, by the way, would be her short haired chum.

“Why’s that?” I said.

“Yerra,” she said, “he does be drunk for half the week trying to get rid of it, and then he does be complaining of his stomach when the cold is gone.”

Many people say the only way to cure a cold is to eat it, while others, like Jack, insist that the only was is to out-drink it.

Perhaps the real cure may lie, like Jack Spratt’s goat, “between them both”, although a large percentage of heavy colds have been kept at bay by nothing more than cabbage water.