It is virtually impossible to live in London, travel on public transport AND avoid catching a cold or flu bug at this time of year. As soon as the temperature drops and the displays in chemists windows change from sun cream and lip salve to tissues and nasal sprays, you know illness is imminent.
There are two approaches to the winter cold. The Preventatives will start taking echinacea as soon as the leaves have left the trees, eat a diet of kale and oranges for the entire winter period, wash their hands whenever they hear a sneeze, and apply antibacterial hand gel at ever opportunity. They are the ones that get on the tube with their gloves still on, not touching anything and holding a newspaper firmly in front of their faces as a germ barrier, whilst the rest of the carriage coughs and splutters around them. Then there are the Inevitables. These people are realists, they know that no matter what they do, they are going to catch something. It's just a matter of time.
As I sat on the tube last week, on my busy commute to work, I would hazard a guess that 1 in 3 people had a cold of some sort. You have the Hackers, who look completely ok on the outside and may happily sit there for a few minutes showing no signs of distress, before suddenly exploding into a wet, rasping dog bark, deeply gutteral and disgusting. I know this one intimately because I have been in possession of such a revolting whoop for the past 2 weeks. Those in the vicinity of such a cough, look completely startled as it erupts from nowhere, then stare or tut in total horror whilst trying to move away into the few millimetres of unoccupied space. You have the Snotters, who sit there for minutes at a time, blowing never-ending streams of mucous into wet soggy tissues. If you're very unlucky, you may be sitting next to or opposite one of these people and be in possession of an unfortunately high gag reflex. Nothing makes me heave more than someone looking into their tissue after blowing, or hearing the squelch of snot escaping hankie. Oh God, here I go again just thinking about it.
As well as these two major groups, there are also much less offensive characters. The Dabbers are the ones with the inflamed red nostrils, who, having taken a strong decongestant before breakfast, now have to contend with a gentle flow of water-like substance, dribbling out continuously. Everyone's thinking the same thing... where the hell does it all come from? Then there are the Ticklers with their persistent throat clearing and embarrassed little 'ahems', which are not only incredibly irritating but make you want to shout, "For God's sake, cough properly!" There are the Deaths Doors, suffering with internal symptoms of headaches and aching bones, who sit there pale and pathetic, letting out the occasional mild groan as they slowly sink down into their seats, wishing the world would end. And finally there are the Sniffers, who for some reason, have not realised they have a runny nose, not brought a bloody tissue with them and therefore have to sniff for the entire journey. The Sniffers are the most annoying people in the world because they also seem to be the ones that wear headphones, so they have absolutely no idea how loud they are sniffing, as they listen to their music at bone shaking volume, inches from your head. The combination of loud snorts with the 'tsk tsk' from headphones is enough to make me leave the tube, seriously. Sniffing is my nemesis.
Last week it came to a head, when a man standing next to me began to sniff loudly, accompanied by the wiping of his nose on the back of his hand. Disgusting. He also had earphones in and seemed to be listening to YMCA, from what I could discern from the distortion. I took and instant dislike to him. As more and more people got on the tube, and compressed us into 'lambada-like' positions, I was trapped somewhere under his armpit, whilst sharing his terrible choice in music. He suddenly gave a really loud revolting throat sniff, followed by a wipe on the hand, another sniff and a thumb and forefinger to the nostrils. Without thinking I let out an, “Ugh”, followed by a, “That's disgusting”. Oops. A couple of people sniggered, but of course, Mr. Sniffer hadn't heard what I'd said, he'd only seen my lips move. He looked at me, which wasn't difficult as his eyeballs were only a few millimetres away from mine, and raised his eyebrows quizzically. I looked down and noticed his shoes, which were really nice brown brogues, and pretended I was invisible. He then took out his earphones and said, “Sorry, did you say something?”, in a deliciously deep husky voice. I looked back up and met his, really rather beautiful, blue eyes. Oh no, be strong Juliet. “Um...um, I just wondered if you needed a...”, I said, quickly grappling in my coat pocket for a tissue. Unfortunately, I produced a well-used crusted piece of kitchen towel, rather than the pristine tissue I had put in earlier. He looked down at my hand, pulled a face, and turning slightly, jammed his earphones firmly back in, giving another sniff for good measure. Just as I was remembering I used to rather like 'The Village People'.