Some of you may remember that last month I had a trip to Stockholm planned and the prospect of time spent on board a ferry was filling me with dread and my underwear with something else. You will be relieved to hear that there were no technical problems, like sinking, and everybody returned safely. On my return I was shocked to discover that I had accidentally smuggled some nasty bacteria from Sweden and in the warmth of my flat it had transformed into a cold.
It was the type of cold that magically appears catching you completely off-guard. You are stood making a coffee when your nose suddenly erupts and something splashes into your coffee that encourages you to tip the reminder away. Being male my instincts immediately told me what to do next, “Päivi, darling. Help, I’m ill.” Ever since my mistake reading the Finnish on a Burana headache tablet packet – oh, 1-3 a day not at once – I now rely on my wife to translate the contents of our first aid box.
“Take two of these and they’ll stop your nose running,” she handed me the tablets and I replied, “Yeah, shove one up each nostril, that will help.” Okay, I didn’t say that but my sense of humour had been the first casualty of illness. “That is lucky,” exclaimed Päivi, “these tablets expire this month, so we can use them up.” In my opinion part of the Finnish psyche is not to waste anything: wrap it in cling film, put it in the freezer, eat it all at once, become ill and use up the tablets. She denies it but I think she was happy that I was coughing and sniffing.
Once the tablets were gone – I’m sure she was smiling – I naturally had to buy some more, but from where? In Finland you use the Apteekki for medical supplies, but for me it was a ten-minute bus journey to get there. I was at the stage in the cold where I was using tissues faster than a woman watching a tragic love story, so when I had to sit on a bus the passengers were looking at me as though I was wearing a Nazi uniform.
At that moment I wanted to be back in England where cold medicines are available from newsagents, supermarkets and even petrol stations, you can also buy cough sweets everywhere to help soothe away that feeling of swallowing a hot sauna stone. Strangely though, many UK supermarkets locate their pharmacy at the back of the store while healthy customers can buy cigarettes at the front.
One final whinge about Finland’s health system is going to the hospital to get something diagnosed and after waiting for three hours, and paying 11e, I actually wanted something to be wrong with me – it’s still a better service than England though! Have you ever noticed than when you become ill everybody is a doctor and knows a guaranteed cure, ‘menthol’, ‘sauna’, ‘honey and lemon’, ‘drink pontikka under a full moon’, and so on. One method I used to do was the English sauna, when a basin is filled with hot water and a towel is placed over the top, but I scalded the tip of my nose once so I stopped.
My cold has now gone, which means I am able to enjoy travelling by bus and put an end to the rock and roll lifestyle of drug taking, but with winter just around the corner it will probably be back again. It seems that a cure for the common cold in the near future is as likely as ex-presidential adviser Martti Manninen advertising fax machines, but until that day I shall keep finishing off those expiring tablets and asking myself, ‘Why don’t you ever notice blowing your nose for the last time during a cold?’
Written in February 2004