30 March 2008

On Men and Colds

I am a man. I have a cold. Please note, I am not claiming to have the Flu. If I had, I would not be writing this at all. No, it is very definitely a cold.

However, let's be honest, the combination of male gender and the common cold is very near fatal. Ask any woman. Why is it that a normally vigorous and active man is reduced to a snivelling piece of human wreckage by something so small as a cold virus? Not that I am talking about myself, since vigour and activity are not usually high on my list of offences. Nevertheless, I find myself somewhat reduced, to say the least, by the ravages of this particular infection.

Fortunately for my employer, this episode has coincided with my weekend, only marginally denting my efficiency on Friday afternoon, and very likely leaving me well enough to stumble through Monday. My free time has, of course, been totally wiped out. On the upside, lots of weekend jobs have had to be put on hold, and I have a perfectly valid reason for being lazy and disengaged from the usual efforts to rescue our home from the chaos into which it descends over the course of a week; and from walking the dog. On the downside, all the stuff that has not been done this weekend will be added to next weekend's schedule, and two weeks' chaos could very likely induce a relapse.

It's not just my Beloved and I who suffer the indiscriminate evils of the common cold. Multiply our domestic inconveniences to the dimensions of a nation, allow that not all colds happen at the weekends, and you quickly see that thousands of working days are lost every year to the common cold (not all on my account, you understand). Millions of pounds are lost from the economy as a result. I'm pleased to announce that I have a cure for the common cold that, with one global effort, would eliminate this scourge of industry forever.

Here's how it works. A common cold usually lasts about four days, during which the sufferer passes it on to others by sneezing or physical transmission of the virus (never shake the hand of someone with a cold). These new sufferers pass it on to others and, before we know it, we have an epidemic on our hands (quite literally). So what's the cure? Isolation. The World Health Organisation needs to get the whole world into quarantine at the same time for long enough for everyone to get clear of their cold and have no-one to pass it on to.

How long is long enough? Well that's the difficult question. In our household, where there are only the two of us, 10 days would be more than long enough: four days for me to have the plague, four days for my beloved to endure it (assuming serial rather than parallel infections) and a couple of extra days to be on the safe side. The WHO would probably have to employ consultants to do some rather complex maths to derive the optimum isolation period taking into account average household size and infection rates. (Perhaps the isolation period could be reduced by having everyone in a household make deliberate efforts to infect each other. That would mean everyone being ill at the same time but, in my experience, mum would soldier on and look after the poor male wretches in her charge.)

Perhaps one month would be enough. Preparation would not be too difficult (after all, most British families are practised at buying a month's worth of food for the two-day Christmas holidays, and, since most of the stuff on telly is repeats, keeping people entertained would be no worse a problem than usual).

How would we pay for it all? Well, if I have, say, three colds in one year and, to take the worst case, they all occur during the working week, I would lose 12 working days in a year, give or take. The month of isolation would amount to about 22 working days lost, that is, ten days more. This would be almost paid for in the very next year in which we are all free from colds. Every subsequent year would result in 12 extra profitable days for the rest of my working life. Multiply this by every person on the planet in gainful employment, add in the days previously lost to other viral infections that may be coincidentally wiped out by the quarantine, account for all the years from now until the sun goes cold, and a phenomenal amount of time is saved in comparison with the month of isolation. All in all, this is an eminently affordable scheme, assuming the aforementioned consultants' fees are reasonable, and I recommend its immediate implementation.

And, let's face it, the way I feel today, I could do with a month off...

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