They say it’s not the same, and maybe they’re right but at Christmas this year I was brought down with a winter flu.
The sickness took me back to fighting a flu in the 70’s and reminded me of how much belief we put in that polka dot dented glass bottle wrapped in that orange paper called Lucozade!
After completing a few Covid tests on the run into Christmas, we thought it was just the flu! , but just starting to come out the other side I wonder which would have been worse, because it’s a long time since I had a flu as rough as this.
Over Christmas, this flu reminded me of the flu coming into our house as children and the way my father would go into a mode to nurse us through it. My father was always knocked back by flu and as a young lad he had to go to the doctor to get his throat lancered during severe bouts before it was decided to get his tonsils out. So it was natural that he took the arrival of the flu as a very serious event.
In Wolfe Tone Place we had Stanley range in the kitchen but we also had a wee open fireplace in the back bedroom upstairs. That fireplace was only ever lit when the flu arrived in our house. I can still remember the light of its reflection of the flames the ceiling of the bedroom and the way it changed the colour of the flowery wallpaper. Daddy would let us change the pillows to the bottom of the beds so you could look into the flames. The fireplace had the smallest opening but wasn’t long heating up the wee room. We even took the telly up and fished down the tv cable from the attic. There was only one two pin plug for all of upstairs and it was in the front room. So the flex for the telly was fed under the two room doors to get the TV going. We made toast upstairs with forks at the fireplace. The smell of toast. Even toast burnt a bit is a memory of a way that my father got our appetite back as he buttered the toast for us. The only medication we had in our house in those days was Vicks. A basin of boiling water with a towel over your head and a dab of Vicks from the blue jar was a way of getting some vapour in to clear the blocked sinus.
A single big bottle of Lucozade was sent to Gallen’s shop. When daddy figured that the flu had broke on you. The smell, the taste and the ease in which it fell on the back of a sore throat I will never forget. We took the smallest sips of the liquid gold if you were the patient. You wanted it to last forever. You mightn’t have had a fancy glass as it was advertised on TV but even from an old striped mug , even one with the ear missing, the taste of Lucozade still carried that amazing feel of positivity urging you on to get better.
We pulled through the flu and we’re soon out and about again. But it was always a constant worry of my father at the first signs of flu that we might suffer the same fate as he did with swollen tonsils so it was arranged to take me and my brother, (the two oldest) to get our tonsils out.
At the time we should have gone to Sligo for the procedure, but the late Dr. McGinley arranged to do the procedure in Letterkenny. It was also arranged to bring my Auntie Bida into the hospital for a procedure at the same time and the three of us were all in the one wee room. I always remember being in theatre and remember being asked to count to 10 and as I did everything faded to the colour green. We were soon back out in the ward again along with Auntie Bida, us all gargling with lukewarm water with loads of salt added. My uncle, Father Mark, called in to see all the patients and had a bottle of Lucozade for us which he took out of the big hood of his brown habit. When we saw the Lucozade we knew we were over the worst. It was a sign that we were on the mend. Fr Mark poured out three small glasses of Lucozade letting on he was working as a barman as he tried to lift our spirits. Years after me and Auntie Bida would often watch the TV Series called ‘The Royal’ she always enjoyed it set in an old style hospital where they all worked together to focus on the challenges the patients presented to them. She never compared it to our time in hospital but to me it looked very similar. Bida was always on call for all the family She gave up her job in the Model Bakery Shop on the High Rd. to help her father care for her mother after she had a stroke and after Bida’s mother passed away she looked after her father was well into his 90’s.
And in the early 70’s she was on call for our emergencies and stayed in hospital with us to reassure and comfort her two wee nephews as they went through their procedure and soon had them on the road to recovery. I remember the day we got home and remember a friend of my father’s, Pauric Doherty from Pluck, coming up to collect us along with daddy. Pauric collected us in an old Wolseley car. We might have only stayed in hospital for three or four days but as children it felt like a month. We were glad to head out the hospital gate in style.
Well over 50 years on and the arrival of flu over Christmas reminded me of so many things from my childhood to today there are so many things available to suppress the symptoms but in my view a bad flu is still a bad flu. It’s not as easy now to get a big glass bottle of Lucozade anymore. It’s all designer size now that fits the massive display fridges and also fits into the pocket of a tracksuit bottom. Now it is called Lucozade original. Gone is the old cork top, gone is the glass, gone is the orange see-through wrapping that people saved and kept to put over their car headlights to see through fog on the roads.
My flu is slowly starting to move now but over the Christmas a power cut had us in darkness for a couple hours and as I opened the damper in our sitting room the Stanley stove and the flames lit up the ceiling of the room there wasn’t much difference in years ago. As I cough my way through the evening I remember my father like an army captain battling the flu with his four wee soldier son. Or auntie Bida’s and Fr. Mark nursing their late sister, Mary Ellen boys on their visit to the hospital. As I look forward to signs that the flu is breaking and maybe get a wee bottle of Lucozade Original for myself.