Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Column, January 8, 2008

PICTURE the scene, 1351, the Black Death has swept the world, reducing its population by about 150 million.
Edmund, the dung collector, has turned up for work and is awaiting the arrival of his colleague, Osric.
Edmund: “What ho Osric, thou lookst a little under ye weather today.”
Osric: “Me Edmund, no, fit as ye flea be me, never had a day’s illness in my life, ye dung needs collecting and groats don’t grow on trees.”
Edmund: “But what about that suppurating rosy rash on thy cheek and the unsightly swelling beneath your armpits?”
Osric: “That, oh that’s nothing, a poultice of bat’s droppings and I’ll be right as…atishoo…atishoo….Edmund, why hast thee fallen down?”
Every workplace has them, the Lemsip heroes, who despite being down with the flu, bravely dose themselves with whatever remedy they can to struggle in to the office, often loudly declaring that they’ve never had a day off ill in their life and a little sniffle won’t stop them.
No, but if it is flu and they’re still infectious it may well put a stop to the rest of their departments when they all go down like ninepins thanks to Typhoid Mary turning up with the aid of paracetamol.
The latest epidemic afflicting us is the dreaded norovirus, or winter vomiting bug, which has shut hospital wards to new admissions across North Wales.
You may well be reading this having made your first venture back onto solids after a couple of days spent hovering within dashing distance of the loo. If so, you have my sympathy.
The headlines have been full of it this week, the cases are expected to peak about now as everyone returns to work after the Christmas break and those struggling in with the aftermath of norvirus will duly infect the rest of their workmates.
This would, it was said, cost British industry billion. Well, if the captains of British industry were a bit less like the bloke who beats the drum in a Roman slave galley, then perhaps I would share their concern at the loss in production. While some people turn in for work because of misplaced heroism and a mistaken belief that the place will fall apart without them; many others go into work when they should really be off sick because they fear for their job if they don’t.
The Protestant work ethic as espoused by management has been the cause of many an employment tribunal when people’s genuine illnesses have been treated unfairly. That’s what you get when you understaff an operation and then expect it to function as normal during times of illness, such as this week. It’s not poor staff attitudes to work that are to blame, it’s plain bad management.
So instead of headlines saying “Norovirus to cost economy £3bn”, they should have read “Incompetent bosses send economy down the Swanee.”
Now I’m not making excuses for the malingerer, and we all know some of them, the sort who phones in coughing and spluttering in the middle of summer, claiming to have “the flu.” This despite the fact that there is no flu around at all at that time of year and for them to have developed it all by themselves would be nothing short opf a medical miracle.
For the malingerer, a headache is always “a migraine”, or a “crippling migraine” if he wants added sympathy; backache is “a slipped disc”; indigestion is “food poisoning” and a cold is most definitely the flu.
God help them when they get something genuinely awful, “Hello boss, I can’t come in today because…. (Thinks…now, I’ve told him I had typhoid, malaria, beri beri and Yellow Fever, so what’s left? I know)….because I’m dead, yes, doctor prescribes complete bed rest, worst case of death he’s seen.
This all comes from bitter experience. Having spent much of my professional life hale and hearty, I then had a family and that is like spending your life sampling the delights on offer in an isolation ward.
Your children’s immune systems are just building themselves up, and so they’re like boxers having a tilt at the world title – they take infection after infection, virus after virus, shaking them off and emerging from each one ever stronger.
Meanwhile, my sad 43-year-old immune system is lying in the corner throwing in the towel.
First one son, then the next, has brought a succession of coughs, colds and noroviruses into our home. I’m grateful to the Department of Health’s advice to us all to wash our hands to stop the spread of the winter vomiting bug, but when junior has emptied the contents of his stomach all over you, there’s only so much you can do.
The only thing they managed not to give me was chicken pox, but that’s because I had the foresight to have that before.
So if you get the call from someone who’s claiming to have gone down with this bug, my advice is play it safe, don’t make them feel guilty, tell them to stay home.

A HOLIDAY home burns down near Criccieth and while no-one is saying it yet I dare say one or two thoughts turn to Meibion Glyndwr.
Of course this might be an isolated act of criminal damage with no intent other than vandalism.
But I’ve always been puzzled by the act of house burning as a protest at the second home market in Wales.
After all, the houses are usually insured for their full value, and so all the house-burner actually achieves is to give the owner a new home. Upsetting maybe, but ultimately futile.
And what with the state of the market at the moment where virtually no-one is buying second homes and the first-time buyer at last seems to have a look-in, this would be a masterpiece of timing by the homeburners.

MATTHEW Parris ought perhaps to have thought harder and longer before writing a column suggesting that cyclists deserved decapitation for, among other things, their smugness and, apparently, the littering of a lane near his home.
He blamed them for the cans of fizzy drink found in the hedgerows.
No cyclist I know drinks anything fizzy while in the saddle, it’s a shortcut to throwing up in a hedgerow, never mind littering it. And we invariably carry drink in handly holders on our bikes that we refill every time we go out, as a moment’s research would have told Mr Parris.
Still, the Times columnist has apologised for his comments after the weight of advers reaction, including that of Rhyl Cycling Club, which knows more than most the risks cyclists face on the roads without ther added prejudice of Mr Parris, became overwhelming.
I like Matthew Parris a lot, he’s a very gifted writer and commentator. He got it wrong this time, but he said sorry. Let’s leave it at that.

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