Driving along the A433, I inadvertently accelerate every time I sneeze. I reproach myself that it’s impossible to catch flu from an influenza vaccine. My best friend, a pharmacist, told me so. But my aching left arm reminds me that in the few hours since I had my jab, I’ve started to feel distinctly unwell.
This morning’s trip to the doctor’s surgery should have made me feel a lot better. I was by far the healthiest person in the surgery and I brought the average age down by at least ten years. But now I’m sneezing for all I’m worth.
As my car kangaroos towards Willesley, I decide to take my mind off my symptoms by listening to the radio. I switch on to hear DJ Steve Wright baiting BBC Radio 2’s resident doctor.
“So what you’re saying, Doc, is that you really can catch a cold by being cold? Are you saying my mum was right when she told me I’d catch my death of cold for going out without a scarf?”
“Yes, she was.”
“But this time last year, you told me that was an old wives’ tale and I shouldn’t believe it?”
You can almost hear Dr Hilary gritting his teeth. He is not enjoying this retraction.
“Ah, but there’s been new research. It clearly shows that if you are cold, your immune system is suppressed. And therefore you’re more likely to catch a cold.”
It’s an astonishing admission. This time next year, perhaps he’ll be telling us you can catch flu from the vaccine – or that my mother was right when she said that if I leave the house with wet hair, I’ll get pneumonia. If these urban myths are overturned, who knows what other old wives’ tales will be proven true?
Goodness knows there are plenty to choose from. Some I will never believe, but still can’t help following. Even in the playground, I didn’t for a moment accept that cutting your hand between your thumb and your forefinger would give you lockjaw. Nor did I really think that if you swallowed chewing gum, it would get wrapped around your heart. But I chose not to take either risk.
I was less convinced by my grandmother’s insistence that “if you don’t eat beetroot, you’ll never have good blood”. Unfortunate experiences with a bullying dinner lady at infants’ school left me forever unable to eat that lurid vegetable, regardless of the health implications.
I didn’t want to believe my other grandmother’s assertion that if you look in the mirror too long, you’ll see the devil looking over your shoulder (presumably designed to nip vanity in the bud at an early age). But I still can’t gaze in a mirror for too long without casting an anxious glance backwards – even the rear view mirror in my car. And killing spiders is a thing of the past in our household, thanks to my elderly neighbour’s mantra: “If you want to live and thrive, let the spider keep alive”. Should I be reckless enough to flatten one, I’d half expect a posse of spider mafia to turn up to get their revenge.
And now, thanks to Doctor Hilary, I’m now going to let myself be governed by another old wives’ tale. I turn off the car radio and turn on the heater instead.
(This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser, November 2011)