This Side of the Pond – Feb. 7

By Sarah Pridgeon

I am suffering from plague. Simple winter cold it may be but, if I’m going to describe the symptoms to you with any degree of accuracy, I can think of no more apt comparison than the Black Death.
If, therefore, you catch sight of me wandering the streets in an eight foot scarf with a nose as bright as a pillar box, I strongly suggest avoiding me like… well, like the plague. It may reassure you to know that I am doing my best to selflessly avert this calamity by whining until I am sent back where I belong: wrapped in a large blanket on the sofa, making plaintive noises about cups of tea.
This isn’t my first anguish of the season, either; despite cloistering myself in our apartment for several days before my trip back to England, I still managed to inhale lurking germs and succumbed to the dizzy spell that announces flu is pending. This happened in the departure lounge of Chicago O’Hare airport.
There wasn’t a lot to be done about it at that point, other than to board the plane and hope for the best. I delivered that flu to my entire family alongside their Christmas gifts, but I’m not expecting a thank you note.
As an aside, I feel less apologetic at having spread my germs to nearby passengers, several of whom deserved it. It would have been a suitable punishment for the man with the jiggly knee who kept invading my space and the girl two seats ahead who stole my section of the overhead bins.
I’m not a lot of use when I’m poorly. The general consensus that women are much better than men at coping with illness seems not to include me, although I am vastly healthier in the open spaces of Wyoming than I was while living in the city.
The problem with London, you see, is the sheer number of people in it; my country’s capital squeezes 20 times the population of Wyoming into an area just ten miles in diameter. Even though a high population is sort of the point of a big city, this creates a breeding ground for every bug under the sun and turns each person on the streets into a vector of disease.
The transport system is the worst culprit of all. As with any big city, it’s almost impossible to run enough trains and buses to cope with the number of people making their way to work, which leads to tightly packed travel.
Though underground trains arrive on the Piccadilly Line once every three minutes, you will still find yourself standing on one leg, nose-to-nose with a group of strangers as you search for an inch of handrail to cling to. The doors then shut, trapping a hundred passengers in each airtight container.
Unsurprisingly, this is the playground of the common cold, which bounces excitedly from commuter to commuter and then follows its victims to the office. Once there, it delights in the air-conditioned atmosphere, taking advantage of the recycled air to spread its joys throughout the building.
Consequently, it’s much easier to return to the sofa when you’re a Londoner. As soon as your first symptom appears, you are frog-marched to the front door and told not to return until you’re no longer harboring the enemy.
To actually return to your sofa, of course, you must once again board a train or a bus, efficiently ushering forward the most unpleasant of the cycles of life. I’m not sure I ever made it longer than six weeks in London without contracting some sort of infection; since moving to Sundance, I can count my illnesses on one hand.
Aside from the unlimited fresh air and absolute lack of a Tube system, Sundance life offers a third advantage to the infected: stronger drugs. I have come to regard English cures as paltry by comparison.
Not only does American cough medicine seem to come equipped with boxing gloves and the caffeine content of a gallon of coffee, it is also impressive in range. In England, you can have a painkiller or a cough drop and, if you don’t like that, well, you shouldn’t have been making such a fuss in the first place.
With the help of said medication, I will have made an impressive return to my usual vigorous self by the time this column crawls its disease-ridden way into your living room. In the meantime, look for me languishing on the sofa – you can navigate there by the light from my shiny red nose.