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James Delingpole

This Christmas, I wish you the gift of flu

For a freelance like me, illness is the only hope of time off

13 December 2014

9:00 AM

13 December 2014

9:00 AM

Have you had the horrid bug that’s going round yet? I’ve got it now and I do hope you get it too. But before I explain why let me describe the unpleasant symptoms.

These include: frequent headaches; burning lungs; watery mucus that makes you feel like you are drowning, later replaced by thick phlegm which makes you feel like you’re being suffocated; a raw, ravaged throat akin to swallowing ground tiger whiskers; a cough so tickly your sleep is like the ‘Albanian’ torture sequence in The Ipcress File; general dyspepsia, torpor, achiness and malaise; irrational, impotent rage over absolutely everything.

The last symptom is so weird it would almost be amusing if you weren’t in such a bad mood. For example, crawling down to breakfast one morning I discovered that some bastard idiot (me, probably) had switched on the Today programme and that everyone and everything on it was hateful beyond measure. This was far beyond the normal, healthy, routine irritation one naturally feels when listening to Radio 4. Basically, I just wanted to kill the entire team: for the way they spoke, the questions they asked, their choice of topics, their appalling intrusion into my head space when all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and die.

Presumably evolutionary biology has a sound explanation for this odd symptom. My guess is that it serves two functions. The first is to make the sufferer so repellent to those around him that they shun his company, thus reducing their risk of being infected. And the second is to ease the community’s pain should he end up dying of his illness: ‘Ah well. He was such a miserable bastard it’s probably better for all of us that he’s in a happier place…’

So why am I now wishing all this horror on you? Because this bug is the equivalent of one of those Blighty wounds they used to yearn after in the trenches: serious enough to require a period of enforced convalescence but not so dreadful that it ended up ruining your life for ever afterwards.

And blimey, are these Blighty bugs a blessing in this hideous new era of ours when none of us get any time off work ever. Yeah, sure, we have our allocated holidays. But how many of us a) take them at all or b) use them for total relaxation? I certainly don’t and I expect it’s the same with you: thanks to the internet and emails and mobile phones, we’re required to be on all the time from the moment we wake till the time we go to bed, at weekends and even on vacation.

Not even Christmas is exempt. In my profession, anyway, it’s seen as a season of joy and bounty — not so much because of the merry family gatherings or the religious connotations but rather because if you’re lucky the Mail will ring you up and ask you to do a quick turnaround feature because the regulars they’d normally commission are away.

By my reckoning the number of totally work-free days I’ve enjoyed in the last two years is zero. And two years, by spooky coincidence, is about how long it has been since I was last properly ill. See what I’m getting at here? If it wasn’t for illnesses like this horrid bug, none of us would ever be able to enjoy any precious ‘me’ moments till the day we die.

Here are some of the things I was able to do on my precious ‘me’ day being ill:

  1. I anaesthetised myself with two huge whiskies — one in a hot toddy, one au naturel — and felt like I was on holiday in Scotland, which is normally the only place I can bear to drink the stuff.
  2. I had a quite incredibly long, hot bath, well over an hour, in which I read, for a change, not a current affairs magazine or a review copy but some fiction which had nothing to do with work whatsoever — Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy.
  3. I thought about going on to my computer to see what the trolls were saying below my latest blogposts and whether anyone was being annoying on Twitter — and then decided, ‘Nah: too much like real life.’
  4. I sat in the sitting room with the Fawn, making a huge and profligate fire, and then spent an afternoon playing Scrabble. Scrabble! Imagine! On the afternoon of a working week. How amazingly decadent is that?
  5. Got to eat supper at a reasonable time for a change because I wasn’t at my desk working. This meant that I could eat my TV dinner in front of Masterchef, then followed on with The Apprentice — and still was in bed early enough to get lots of reading time in before lights out.
  6. Played Carcassonne, while watching The Apprentice, which to be fair is something I do even when I’m not ill. The difference this time was that it didn’t strike me as a frivolous waste of life but a pleasure I thoroughly deserved as a reward for courage and endurance during my sickness hell.

So I hope, now, you won’t think me a kill-joy for wishing on you this vile illness during the festive season. Rather, I hope you’ll understand that it is a sign that I love you and I care. It will get you off cooking and washing up. No one will expect you to be sociable or even to show the slightest gratitude for their crappy presents. You’ll be let off Midnight Mass. You can tell everyone what you really think. Bliss!

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