The answer to all my problems, I read last week in a fascinating little booklet on fungal infections, is a substance called caprylic acid. Left to run riot, it predicted, the fungus growing in my throat and digestive tract will cause flatulence and itching (which I already have in spades), and eventually psychosis. Caprylic acid, a substance found in coconuts and breast milk, was the best natural substance to combat it, it said. That, combined with as much raw garlic as I can stomach. Of course I can always visit a doctor and get a prescription for some virulent chemical that will have a scattergun effect and kill off the good fungus as well as the bad, leaving me nauseous and debilitated for a week, it said. But the booklet’s author warned sternly against this. Caprylic acid, he said — that was the best thing.
The health-food shop, when I went there to try to find some, was doing a roaring trade. It’s a small high street shop, yet three tills were going flat out. If you stopped to moralise, you might conclude how obscene it is that the most well-fed people in the world supplement their diet with expensive vitamins, minerals and herb extracts, while a billion children in the world go to bed hungry. And the people in the health-food shop looked exactly like the kind of people who might feel a little uncomfortable about precisely this sort of injustice. But to be fair, none of them looked very well — perhaps it was the weight of the guilt they were carrying about — and there’s no getting round the fact that affluence and valetudinarianism go hand in hand.
I scanned the floor-to-ceiling supplements shelves. Hundreds of products in small bottles and plastic tubs were on sale, arranged in no particular order. The aisle was narrow and I had to stand as close to the shelves as possible to allow other customers past. Then I noticed an assistant in a green apron who was making herself available for general inquiries. I caught her eye. ‘Caprylic acid?’ I said. She looked uncertain, but after looking at the far end, high up, she came back triumphantly with a combination of caprylic acid and grapefruit-seed extract. ‘What’s it for?’ she said. I told her I had a fungal infestation. Thrush. ‘Come closer,’ she said. The crowded aisle meant that we were already fairly cosy, but I shuffled forward until it would have been easier to clasp her in my arms for mutual support. She lifted a small bobbin-shaped pendulum on a short string and dangled it in front of my face. ‘Do I have permission to dowse you?’ she said. I nodded obediently. ‘I have to ask first,’ she explained. Then, speaking not to me but to some disembodied entity, she intoned, ‘Does this person have a fungal infection?’ The bobbin spun like a small propeller. ‘Thank you. Yes, you have,’ she said. Then she leaned forward and looked into my eyes. ‘More often than not,’ she said, searching my soul, ‘fungal infestations are the result of a spiritual injury. Tell me something — you’re a giver, aren’t you?’ Her appraising gaze now travelled downwards, from my head to my feet, taking in along the way my running vest, my yachting shorts, and coming to rest on my new trainers with the fluorescent orange stripes. ‘Because right now,’ she said, ‘the universe is changing. Instead of the world being divided up into takers and givers, from this moment on we’ve all got to become givers.’
I looked at her face properly for the first time. Then I looked down the front of her green apron. Givers? Takers? What could she mean? ‘On the whole,’ I said, looking her in the eye now, ‘I do like to give rather than take. And you?’
‘Oh, I’m a giver,’ she said breezily. ‘I was born to give. That’s why I ended up as a fishwife. But I’ve learnt my lesson and I don’t stay around takers any more. A taker will take until there’s nothing left and then still go on taking. This causes spiritual exhaustion in the giver. Then the giver’s spiritual defences weaken and collapse, allowing illness to come in and take over. I think this is where you are. For you, caprylic acid can only be a short-term answer. In the long term you must also learn to say no to people. Oh, and can I recommend some peach-flowered tea-tree essence as well? It’s rather expensive, but it’s wonderful stuff for fungal infestations.’
Being the kind of person who can’t say no, I bought two bottles of peach-flowered tea-tree oil at £12.95 each as well as the caprylic acid and grapefruit-seed extract. And when I got home I rang up and made an appointment to see a doctor.