’Tis the Season to be Greedy  

(This was first published in Le News 11 December 2014)

Is anyone else out there feeling a little … I don’t know … besieged … by the seasonal messages to buy everything in sight?

No sooner was Halloween over, than I started being propositioned by my inbox every time I opened my computer.

‘Holiday deals,’ it would purr, sidling up to me like a dodgy pavement vendor of sunglasses. ‘We both know there’s something here that you want.’

Well, of course there was. But I should never have made eye-contact because pretty soon I couldn’t go online without a zillion mails, banners and pop-ups, all vying for my attention. And as we moved closer to Black Friday, the tone became increasingly hysterical. ‘This is your last chance to buy these amazing books / shoes / sofas / Princess Enchanted Cupcake things! Buy now! Buy now!’

Black Friday gave way to Cyber Monday (what is that, even?) and now … Christmas! Everywhere I look there are ads for toys, luxury foods, new Christmas outfits, new Christmas cars …

Honesty, I don’t need this when I’m online. If I wanted this sort of rampant commodity fetishism, I’d just switch off the computer and watch Disney Junior with my children. No. The Internet is where I go to get away from all that. The Internet is where I go to spend time with my imaginary friends on Facebook; it’s where I go to get the facts to support my beliefs; and it’s where I turned last week, with the search query, ‘What meaning can a non-religious person find in the holiday season, that doesn’t involve bankrupting themselves or getting type 2 diabetes?’

Well. I soon realised that I needed to search no further. Because it’s pointless. It seems that this time of year has always been about crazy excess, heaps of presents, and eating until you almost die.

It seems to be generally accepted that our current Christmas celebrations overlay a number of older festival days and rituals, the most obvious one being the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, which lasted from the 17th to 23rd December, and involved lavish gift-giving, out-of-control feasting and lots of alcohol.

In her fascinating book History of Christmas Food and Feasts, author Claire Hopley makes the point that, in the Northern hemisphere, Christmas was the one time of year where food was plentiful – not only the food gathered during the autumn harvest, but also fresh meat, slaughtered to avoid the expense of feeding livestock throughout winter. Knowing lean times surely lay ahead, people ate. And ate. And drank. And ate. And some pretty disturbing things, they ate, too …

Nothing screams ‘modern First World Christmas excess’ to me quite as loudly as that terrifying Frankenfood, the turducken: a deboned chicken stuffed into a deboned duck, stuffed into a deboned turkey, then closed up and cooked … like some meat matryoshka doll. But, guess what? It’s not modern at all! Hopley cites a 1747 recipe for a turkey, goose, chicken, pigeon, partridge mash-up, and suggests that the Christmas Carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas may have been inspired by this cooking method: a partridge (in) two doves (in) three hens … although by the time the song gets to the eight maids a-milking, one hopes it has moved onto a different theme.

Anyway, it seems that Christmas excess is just built into the seasonal celebrations and there’s no escaping it. So, to misquote the somewhat threatening lyrics of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, ‘We all like figgy pudding / heaps of presents / desserts with sugar three ways / enough wine to drown in … and we won’t go until we’ve got some … so bring it right here!’

I Had a Little Robot

(This was first published in Le News 4 December 2014)

Sunday was a big day for my family: for on Sunday, a perfect little miracle was delivered to us.

And no, that does not refer to another baby, for those of you who haven’t read my previous 39 columns and who have no idea how much I could not cope with more children.

No. The perfect little miracle is a Roomba, and it was delivered to us by our wonderful and generous friends, who are leaving the country.

Like I said, a big day. Our first robot. Well. Second robot, if you count Furbies as robots, which I don’t because they’re useless. Wikipedia says that the word ‘robot’ comes from the Old Bulgarian for ‘work’, and believe me, those Furbies do nothing around here.

Anyway. After years of staring into the neighbour’s garden in wonder and envy, spying on their Robomow … our very own Age of the Robot has begun.

Familial reactions have been mixed. The cat hates the thing. My husband loves it. When it went too close to our death-trap staircase, he raced to the bottom and stood ready to catch it, just as he used to do with the smaller child when we first moved in here.

The children love it too, following it around like the puppy-starved little girls that they are. But it was not always thus. When we first turned it on, the smaller child immediately forgot all the hard work she’s been doing this term on measurement and capacity, and shrieked, ’Turn it off! It’ll suck up the couch!’

And I … well, I’m expecting trouble. I watched it move around the kitchen yesterday, without crashing into anything or spilling the cat’s drinking water – thus quite outperforming everyone else in the family – and I thought: a robot that intelligent is going to aspire to something more than this, one day.

Way back when I was a child, we were somewhat unsophisticated as far as technology went. My granny mowed her front lawn with a flock of sheep, and when we wanted to make a phone call, we lifted the enormous handset off the wall-mounted cradle and asked the operator to put the call through. Never for one second did I imagine that I would own a robot one day, and I would never have wanted to. In those days, robots weren’t adorable little things that buzzed around your feet, sucking up dust, cat hair and pieces of furniture. Robots were the bad guys: Gort, Cylons, Maximillian from The Black Hole, soulful Roy from Blade Runner, HAL, Ash, the Terminator … they were huge, gimlet-eyed, mostly bullet-proof, and not taking any of humanity’s crap.

The list of good robots is much shorter – as are most of the robots themselves: R2D2, C3PO, WALL-E and that creepy little thing, whatever its name is, from the Buck Rogers TV series.

No. Movies and books have taught me well. That many people can’t be that paranoid for no reason. My little Roomba might be adorable now, buzzing around the lounge and trying to please me, but it won’t last forever.

One day I’ll say, ‘Roomba, please clean up the Guinea Pig poo.’

And my Roomba will rise up and look me in the eye – metaphorically, obviously – and say, ‘I’m sorry, Robyn. I’m afraid I can’t do that.’

Then it’ll burst into tears and run into its room, and it won’t lift a finger to help me for the next ten years.

And, just like that, our golden time, our Age of the Robot will be over. And the Adolescence of the Robot will have begun.

Best Before 2014

(This was first published in Le News 27 November 2014)

When did I realise I was obsolete? Thank you for asking. It was last week, when the five-year-old pushed my helping hand away from the touchscreen and said, with some impatience, ‘It’s fine, Mom, I can do it. You take too long.’

These are the exact words I remember my brother and I using back in the eighties, every time one of my parents tried to do anything with our VCR. The machine was clearly out of their league – they could manage to turn it on, and press ‘record’ or ‘play’ but that was it. They certainly couldn’t make it do complicated things like record something at a set time in the future, no matter how long they spent sitting on the floor with the instruction manual. After one too many missed episodes of CHiPs, my brother and I took over and our parents hardly went near the VCR again.

And now … now my own children see me as the same sort of techno-bungler. Hopelessly past my ‘best-by’ date. So very Last Century.

‘What are you doing?’ they asked in bewilderment during a recent game of Charades, as I mimed lifting a handset and dialling a number. In reply, I mimed slower and louder, but of course that didn’t help. Even when they were babies, the toy phones had push buttons.

No, they have definitely left me behind, my children. When they have a question, they don’t ask me to impart maternal wisdom anymore; they just ask me to Google the answer for them.

Similarly, if they want to learn a skill (like hand-knitting, or doing a Hannah Montana dance) they don’t ask me to teach them, but rather to find the YouTube demonstration.

My role now is purely one of monitoring and control: making sure it really is Hannah Montana’s dance they’re doing, and not Miley Cyrus’s; and restricting viewings of the dreadful Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse to a ratio of one Barbie episode to any three full-length Studio Ghibli movies (preferably Totoro because I love that one).

But it’s not an easy job! The five-year-old adores the Barbie show, and doesn’t care if her brain turns into a lump of pink plastic. She managed to hack into my computer the other day, get onto Netflix and start watching Life in the Dreamhouse before I even knew she was upstairs. Turns out I’d been too relaxed about typing my password in while she was watching me. It takes us fifteen minutes of teeth-grinding and tears to get through one page of her phonics reader, so who knew she could follow the typing-in of an 8 digit password from across the room?

Anyway, there’s still hope for me. My 70-year-old mother – she who never managed to get a clear reception on the television because she couldn’t figure out where to point the aerial – recently bought herself an iPad, and she absolutely loves it. So I’ll be fine with whatever technology we’re using in in thirty years. I’ll just get up in the morning, have my coffee, plug the Internet into my head, and it’ll be great.

And how I’ll laugh when I see my little grandchild, on her way to school, push her mother’s hand away from the teleportation unit.

‘It’s fine, Mom, I can do it,’ she’ll say. ‘You take too long.’

Being made to feel incompetent by your children: it’s the Circle of Life.

All They Have Destroyed

(This was first published in Le News 20 November 2014)

‘Nothing,’ said my younger daughter when I walked past her last week, and my blood froze in my veins. As any parent knows, a child’s protest of innocence usually means that they have done something naughty. And if that protest comes before they’ve even been accused of anything, then they’ve done something really naughty.

Luckily the child crumbles quickly under interrogation.

‘What do you mean, “nothing”?’ I demanded.

‘I wasn’t sitting on the roof of your car. And I didn’t dent it.’

I was angry, of course, but I wasn’t surprised. Almost from the moment they were born, the children have conducted a sustained assault on our house and everything in it.

‘Who did this?’ I bellowed a very short time ago, on discovering a piece of graffiti on the wooden staircase. I didn’t really need to ask, because the dimwitted little culprit had written her name in ballpoint pen underneath her masterpiece.

‘But that guy did it at Chillon Castle,’ the child protested, ‘and you like that!’

‘When you’re a Romantic poet who’s been dead for 200 years, you can also carve ‘Byron’ all over the place. Until then … no pocket money for a month!’

It’s not that they’re trying to be destructive. Well, some of the time they are. But mostly the havoc wreaked is quite incidental. What they’re really trying to do is play. And when they play, they move into a fantasy world so real to them that they completely forget where they are.

The smaller child, for example, was not sitting on my car. She was actually sitting on a dinosaur. She was, she explained later, the only human ever allowed to ride the untamed Dino Queen. And to dent her.

The bigger child was not a naughty little girl scribbling on a staircase. She was Madeline, carving her name into the skirting board so that she will forever be a part of the orphanage home she loves and is being forced to leave.

I understand this slipping into fantasy, because I used to be able to do it, too. And I’m envious because now I can’t. Even if I did manage to slip the surly bonds of adulthood and play like a little child for a moment, some jerk with a camera phone and a YouTube account would make sure I never, ever did it again.

Besides, it’s not as if the children aren’t learning anything from these incidents. Teachable Moments, right? This year alone, we have learned that:

  • It is possible to literally love a Furby to pieces.
  • If you put a slice of cake into a CD player, it will not, in fact, play ‘Happy Birthday’. It will just get gummed up and never play anything properly, ever again.
  • If you jump up and down on a bathroom scale hard enough, yes, eventually the arrow will point to 110 kilos. And it will be very funny, because you’re so small and look! You weigh 110 kilos! But the arrow will stay there and when Mommy gets on the scale the next morning, you will hear her screams all the way over in France. Mommy doesn’t think it’s funny, to weigh 110 kilos.

But most of all, I’ve learned that, the next time I’m creatively stuck, climbing onto the roof of my car just might help. The bad impression it will leave on the neighbours (and my car) will be well worth it if I can just catch a glimpse, again, of fantasy land. Look out for me on YouTube!

A Design for Life 

(This was first published in Le News 13 November 2014)

Last week I spent a happy hour or so strolling around the Montreux Art Gallery, fantasising about what it would be like to a) have enough money to buy whatever I liked and b) have a big enough house to hang it all in.

On my second lap of the place, and a few complimentary drinks, my Champagne Goggles kicked in (like Beer Goggles, only classier) and I found myself strangely drawn to pieces that I’d rejected out of hand the first time around.

‘Well, hello there,’ I purred, sidling up to a sculpture made entirely of gummy bears. ‘Aren’t you a sweet little thing. Want to come home with me?’

Luckily, as it turned out, it was not an actual sculpture, but a real dish of real gummy bears on a refreshment table, so I was spared the horror of waking up the next morning and having to explain myself – and contemporary art – to my husband.

Anyway, my adventures in Montreux have strengthened my resolve to find some art to hang in the lounge. Ever since I cleared the ironing pile off the armchair, there’s been an empty spot against the far wall, just begging for something to fill it.

I know it’s not going to be easy, as there are a few key criteria that I have to bear in mind:

  • I won’t lie, price is a big consideration. I can fob the family off with pasta and cheese for a few weeks, but after that someone is going to start asking questions about grocery money.
  • The piece must be fully washable. Despite what she says, I don’t think the smaller child actually has learned her lesson, and another Exploding Glitter Glue incident is entirely likely. At the very least, I need something that I can run through the laminator and wipe clean with a dishcloth.
  • The art piece absolutely must be compatible with all the other important pieces that adorn our lounge walls. These include: a pencil drawing of Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus, taped to the TV cabinet; a handwritten letter begging for a pet hamster, stuck to the wall with chewing gum; a pink and blue Littlest Pet Shop house; several spots of glitter glue; and my husband’s latest thing – a video piece titled, ‘Nonstop American Football’. I thought this last was a temporary exhibit but it somehow seems to have become part of our permanent collection.
  • As to what it actually looks like … I don’t know. Engaging and pleasant to look at (or at least not so Baconesque that it terrifies the children). Ideally it would speak to us of our various interests, referencing sport, modern music and contemporary primary-school culture.
  • ‘You do realise that you’ve just described the television,’ my husband pointed out, smiling fondly at his Precious.

So it seems my plans for art acquisition have been shelved for now, in favour of rugby and Disney Junior. But it’s fine. I did not come home empty handed, from my foray into the world of culture. With my complimentary Champagne Goggles on, life is beautiful.

Semi-Detached Parenting

(This was first published in Le News 6 November 2014)

I’m all for attachment parenting, I really am. When the children were babies, I demand-fed them (and myself, if I’m honest); my husband and I  carried them around in our arms, in slings and in baby backpacks; we co-slept and I loved it. There was nothing sweeter for me than waking in the night to see their small, snuffling faces inches away from mine. But now, after seven years of dedicated attachment, I’d like to know … when can I expect them to detach?

When can I reasonably expect to sink into a nice hot bath without both children immediately rushing in to a) use the toilet and b) use my knees as islands for their toys to play on?

I like to cuddle them, of course, but when can I expect to sit down on the couch without them climbing onto my lap and starting a vicious turf war?

The smaller child is particularly fierce in her desire for proximity. She went through a phase – oh, such a long one, it seemed! – of following me around with her forehead pressed to the side of my leg.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked, the first time this happened. ‘It’s weird.’

‘I’m keeping my eyes on you,’ she replied. ‘You’re not going anywhere without me.’

I can’t complain too much, though, because it’s her father who really bears the brunt of her barnacle nature. He’s her guy, her Happy Place, her comfort, her big doudou. She follows him around all day and climbs into our bed in the early hours, to sleep on his head. On our recent South African holiday we spent a very pleasant few hours in a Camps Bay restaurant, gazing out to sea and drinking sundowners. And of all the tanned and trendy people there, my husband was the only one who had a small girl in a bright pink tutu perched on his shoulder, like a large and very demanding parrot. It’s hard to believe that one teenage day she won’t want to be seen in public with us.

The older child isn’t quite as cuddlesome as her sister, but she’s certainly  still attached. In fact, I think she sees me as some sort of extension of herself, useful for doing the things that she can’t, yet.

‘Hi,’ she’ll say, with the winning smile that always prefaces some request.  ‘Please will you Google a few things for me? Thanks. Here’s a list. And could you go on Spotify and find me the song that I just heard on the bus? I don’t know the title or any of the words but it sounds like that other song that you couldn’t find last week. And will you open this water bottle for me? And scratch my back? Also, I’d like a play date with someone from my class. Can you arrange it?’

It’s like I’m a cross between Miss Moneypenny and a robotic arm.

Anyway, neither of them are showing signs of undocking from the mothership anytime soon. Only last weekend they found me in the playroom, where I was huddled in a corner with a magazine and a cup of tea.

‘Mommy!’ the bigger one cried, scandalised. ‘What are you doing in here all by yourself?’

‘I’m fine,’ I replied, backing further into my corner and clutching my magazine to my chest. ‘I’m happy here. Very, very happy.’

‘Poor you,’ crooned the small one, climbing onto my knee and patting my head. ‘All alone. Don’t worry, Mommy. We’ll keep you company. We won’t let you be alone. Ever. You will never … ever … ever … be alone …’

D. I. Y. Why can’t I? 

(This was first published in Le News 23 October 2014)

I come from a long line of handymen and handywomen, and so does my husband. There is absolutely nothing these people can’t do: they bake, garden and make jam; they build bookshelves, dig French drains and put in their own swimming pools; they sew, embroider, knit, make jewellery, do their own tiling and house painting … I can only hope that if I’m ever stranded on a desert island, it’s with them, because we’ll be sorted in no time. We’ll be sitting in our fully-equipped modern huts, stylishly dressed and eating pineapple jam on fresh bread before the first monsoon.

Even the children will have made themselves iPads out of driftwood and pebbles. ‘Be a Maker,’ I’m always telling them. ‘Don’t just consume!’

So here I sit, in the middle of this family who are always hammering, digging, stitching, stirring … and yet somehow, the Handy gene has rejected me.

After years of trial (and some absolutely horrible errors), I can finally say that I’m a competent cook. But I still can’t bake, and if it weren’t for fondant icing – surely the Spanx of the confectionary world – my cakes would look as dodgy as they taste.

Same with needlecraft. The downstairs storeroom looks like something out of Silence of the Lambs: the eerie gloom (because I put the light fitting on skew) is a weird array of things, hanging from the shelves and stuffed into bins … jerseys with gaping necks and overlong sleeves; pencil skirts that no human body could ever fit into; a dress for a strangely foreshortened child; two malformed amigurumi birds …

And upstairs: three sets of Ikea shelves that list to the left and cannot be trusted in a stiff breeze. When I finished each – feeling like quite a hero, I must tell you – I was left with a handful of screws that I still can’t explain, despite following the instructions to the letter.

For a while, I blamed my tools. But then I got new tools and I realised, it’s not the tools. It’s the skills that are the problem.

All this is very unfair, because nobody wants to be a Maker more than I do. I longfor a hand made life. I’ve watched every programme Kirsty Allsopp has ever filmed, and if I ever meet Kaffe Fasset, I’m going to scream like a teenager and faint. I want to be like Pa Ingalls, who made his log cabin out of trees that he felled himself. I want to hand-rear a sheep, so I can dye its wool using plants I’ve foraged for, then spin the yarn and make our carpets. But until I get the hang of the electric mixer, I think a floor loom may be beyond me.

I know that I should just move away from the toolbox. And the sewing machine. And the oven (every cake I make only damages my self esteem and frightens the children). But maybe Malcolm Gladwell is right, that the key to success in anything is 10 000 hours of practice. By my estimate, that’s only about 500 ill-fitting pairs of knitted socks, 10 000 collapsed soufflés and 5 000 untrustworthy pieces of flat-pack furniture to go, before I get it right!

They Grow Up So Fast These Days 

(This was first published in Le News 16 October 2014)

The seven-year-old surprised me the other day by hopping into the back seat of the car, with full make-up on: eyeliner, mascara, gold eyeshadow (mostly all over her forehead, but still), blusher and lipstick. And engulfed in a cloud of perfume.

We looked at one another in the rearview mirror for a few moments. I know that it’s at times like this that parents should take a deep breath (despite all the perfume) and choose their words carefully.

‘You’re not going out like that!’ I said. Which were evidently not the best words to have chosen because they led to a stand-off.

‘Yes, I am,’ said my gilded lily, and put her seatbelt on.

‘No, you’re not.’

‘Yes. I. Am.’

Well, I won that one, but only because I control telecommunications in our house and I threatened to cut her off from Disney Junior forever. She didn’t flounce away having learned anything except that her mother is the worst, and she’s never allowed to do anything. Which she already knew.

‘It’s like I’m a prisoner!’ she wailed for the rest of the weekend. ‘It’s like I’m … Nelson Mandela!’

I tried to explain the difference between being held in jail for 27 years by an immoral regime, and being told to wash your face by your mother, but she just couldn’t see it.

Apparently, she suffers alone in all this. Every other seven-year old she knows is allowed to wear make-up, and high-heeled shoes. They’re also allowed to watch grown-up movies, go for very long walks all by themselves and wear dangly earrings in their pierced ears. I don’t know where these independent-minded, cross-dressing little sophisticates hang out, but I’ve never seen them. They’re probably in a coffee shop, reading My First Kafka (which is an actual book that actually does exist. Because every pre-school library shelf could use a little existential despair).

I didn’t think I would ever be the sort of mother who resorted to the Because I Said So defence. I was the wayward daughter of conservative parents, and I truly intended to stay that way. I wanted to be an open-minded, non-judgemental hippie Earth Mother, to silence my own authoritarian drone so my children could hear their wise inner voices.

But I now realise two things: firstly, the wise inner voice of a child says things like, ‘Vegetables will kill you! Sliding down the stairs on a tea tray is an excellent idea! Mommy likes it when you put snails in the Tupperware drawer!’

And, secondly, I am no hippie Earth Mother. In fact, I seem to have developed a conservative streak a mile wide. And that’s just fine.

So yesterday, when the child asked me for the thirtieth time why she couldn’t wear lipstick to school, I looked her in the eye and said, ‘Why not? Because you’re a little child, and sometimes it feels like I’m the only thing standing between you and a world that wants you to look and think and behave like an adult. Because I think you should be out all day playing in the mud and climbing trees, but we live in a time where there are fashion models just a few years older than you, and Kafka for children is even a thing. Because your perfect little face doesn’t need to be drawn on to look beautiful.

And because I’m your mother. And I said so. That’s why not.’

Language Thermidor 

(This was first published in Le News 9 October 2014)

When they heard that I was moving to Switzerland, many of my South African friends assured me that I would be speaking French fluently ‘in no time’.

Most of them do not speak French themselves, and were most likely confusing French the actual language with French the menu language. The latter usually has helpful English translations underneath and so can easily be learned between the apéritifs and the digestifs. But the former … well, I don’t know. It’s taken three years and three rounds of lessons, and I still don’t speak it fluently. Maybe what my friends meant by ‘in no time’ was actually ‘never’ but they were too kind to come out and say it.

Those same friends were also warmly reassuring about how much better it would be to learn French in situ, rather than taking classes while still in South Africa.

‘Oh, the immersion method is best,’ they said. ‘It’s the way children learn!’

(Hah! Show me the child who’s had to explain the contents of their suitcase to a Swiss border guard on first entering the country and I’ll show you … I don’t know. One of the Von Trapps, maybe. But no ordinary child.)

In my view, the immersion method may be effective but it’s also extremely damaging to the psyche.

For example: in a class, language students move along with a structured programme, laying a good foundation and methodically building on that.

But for us immersion-learners, the pathway into French is crazy-paved and looping. It’s all needs-based, so you might still be learning the basics – (Hello. Please. Thank you. No, I don’t have a store loyalty card) – at the same time that you are plunged into actually living in this language, going to the shops and asking for things you need. If you’re unlucky, your child will come down with something horrible and you’ll find yourself in the pharmacy, whipping out your spotty new vocabulary for the amusement of everyone in the queue behind you: (Hello. I am looking for a shampoo for head lice. And I need a medicine for warts. And pills for intestinal worms. Also, I’d like a Cloak of Invisibility, please. No, don’t bother packing it. I’ll just put it on right here.)

Further, learners in a language class get a sense of achievement from moving through the syllabus. They might … I don’t know … pass tests, participate in dialogues, complete worksheets. They’ll get approval from their teachers and go home feeling all glowy, and one step closer to Paris.

Not so for us deep-enders. We never get the chance to feel good about ourselves. Instead, every day we’re brought face-to-face with what we don’t know. Yes, you may have just spent the previous week twisting your brain into a pretzel to memorise the gender of two hundred nouns. Excellent. Now try to tell that to the supermarket checkout lady, who’s (inexplicably) waving a flower at you and getting increasingly irritated with your inability to understand what’s going on. She’s strangely unimpressed when you tell her that ‘flower’ is a feminine noun.

Anyway, hope springs eternal, so I’m about to start my fourth round of French lessons. And this one surely will clinch it. I’ll be fluent after this. No more weird pantomiming in the bakery; no more making up strange hybrid words when I can’t remember the right ones. And then I’ll be ready to plunge right in and immerse myself again: from the top of my head right down to my foot-fingers.

In Sickness and in Health 

(This was first published in Le News 2 October 2014)

Oh, hooray. It’s cold and flu season again (again? Wasn’t it just November, like, a month ago?) and to amuse us all during this trying time, I’ve compiled a short list of sufferer ‘types’, based on my family. I’m sure there are more types, so contributions are welcome, but this is what I have to deal with:

The Typhoid Mary: Mary Mallon worked as a private cook for several wealthy New York families between 1900 and 1907, and is suspected of infecting over 50 people with typhoid. I’ve known several Typhoid Marys in my life – co workers who bravely dragged themselves into the office and coughed all over everything – but the most virulent one must be my seven-year-old. She’s a germ’s dream host, spreading the love with every dramatic sneeze. I’m thinking of muzzling her for the rest of the winter.

The Hermit: American writer Henry Thoreau lived alone in a cabin on Walden Pond for two years. Popular belief is that he was conducting an experiment in living simply, but most likely he was just trying to shake off a head cold.

I totally understand this. When I’m sick, I want to curl up in my bed, alone. ‘Alone’ means no cat selfishly trying to warm it’s paws on my fevered skin, no bored children bouncing on the mattress, and certainly no Guinea Pigs slipped under the duvet to ‘keep me company because I must be lonely’.

Rasputin, the Indestructible: Legend has it that Grigori Rasputin – faith healer, political advisor to Tsar Nicholas II and all-round creepy guy – was so strong that it took cyanide poisoning, four bullets and whack on the head to fell him. Of course this is probably an exaggeration but, still, he doesn’t strike me as a man who took a lot of sick days.

In constitution (and somewhat forceful disposition, let’s be honest), the five-year-old is a Rasputin. Thanks to a babyhood spent licking every handrail between Joburg and Florence, she has an astounding immune system and although she’ll catch the same cold as the rest of us, it won’t take hold or last long. I’ve known a few Rasputins and I must say, it’s very annoying when the germs that have been too intimidated to hang around them then come over and beat me up.

The Pollyanna: The title character in Eleanor H. Porter’s book, Pollyanna is a bright-eyed little optimist / stubborn anti-realist, depending on your viewpoint. When she gets a pair of crutches as a gift instead of a doll (what?), she doesn’t throw a blue fit like any normal child. No. Instead, she declares that the crutches have made her happy because she doesn’t need them.

As far as I remember, Pollyanna doesn’t catch a cold in the book, but if she did, she’d put a positive spin on it.

Oh,’ she’d say, lying on the floor with a temperature of 41 and her eyeballs bulging. ‘I’m so glad it isn’t Yellow Fever!’

Now, change her gender, cut off her ringlets, slap on some facial hair, and you have my husband. He whose mantra is, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.’

It’s been my sad experience that you can’t expect much sympathy from a Pollyanna when you’re sick: you first need to feel sorry for yourself, before you can feel sorry for anyone else, and Pollyannas never feel sorry for themselves.

But I certainly can, which is what I’m planning to do right now. After I’ve made myself a hot toddy (because nobody else is going to) and ousted Rasputin’s Guinea Pigs from my bed.