Sunday, November 7, 2010

Seeking Familiar Comfort

This week sees Mike feeling a little under the weather, and it’s prompted a variation on home sickness:


When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

Robert Louis Stevenson - The Land of Counterpane

That has been one of my favorite poems since I was a child, especially when I was sick and in bed, as I am now. (And, no, it is not The Man Flue, I have an ear infection and a fever, thank you very much, but I’ll soldier on despite the pain.) Appropriately enough, I do have three pillows at my head, but unfortunately, my toys these days consist of a BlackBerry, a WiFi enabled laptop and a box of tissues. Useful, to be sure, but not as much fun as leaden soldiers.

As a rule, I attempt to avoid illness, especially now when I know that, in my misery, I will not be able to surround myself with the familiar comforts of home.

As a sick-bed must-have, Campbell’s Chicken Rice Soup is number one with a bullet. Dress it up with extra rice, some garlic salt and there is no better cure-all this side of a Jewish Grandmother’s kitchen. Tragically, it is unavailable here. I look for it all the time (always nice to have a few cans in the larder, just in case) but have never found it. This, naturally, has led to some experimentation with native ingredients. Bad idea.

Nyquil is also among the missing. As is a qualified pain reliever. British aspirin, in addition to being doled out in packets of sixteen tablets, has the curative properties of tap water, and the various aspirin substitutes are not far behind. I think it must have something to do with what we are brought up with—the drugs we take as children must get into our chemical structure, making us immune to foreign drugs. This is why I always have a large bottle of Aleve on hand—it is the only drug that seems to work for me, and I have to have it shipped in from the States.

To be fair, there are a few indigenous comforts I am learning to adopt to ease my convalescence along. The main one is tea, simply because they have better tea over here and there is nothing like a nice cup of tea when you are feeling poorly. Add to that a steaming cup of Lemsip at bedtime and you can forget about American drugs. For four hours, at least.

But I know I’d be up and around by now if I just had a bowl of Campbell’s Chicken Rice Soup.


If you look in my medicine cabinet you’ll find Dioralyte, the kids’ diarrhoea-stopper and general miracle powder, Tyrozets, the throat number and general miracle lozenge, and Feminax, the answer to any cramping woman’s prayers. I can’t find anything close in the US so every British guest is asked to bring at least one of each in lieu of the usual Cadbury’s chocolate, Branston pickle or Marmite. (Yes, I sacrifice all of those for decent British drugs.)

I can’t say I agree with Mike’s assertion that American drugs are better/stronger than their British counterparts. When I showed my lady doctor the list of ingredients on my Feminax packet she was aghast that the stuff (codeine) was sold over the counter and advised me to be very careful. Given that I am usually parenting at least one child, I usually take half the recommended dose of Feminax unless I really want to pretend they don’t inhabit my world. Powerful stuff.

And then there are the British foods and drinks I consider must-have’s for recovery from anything:

  • Lucozade. Vile, orange, fizzy stuff that meant (in our house) that you were really quite poorly. It served the same purpose as Gatorade, replacing the stuff you lose when you’re dehydrated and can’t eat, but (dare I say it) tasted even worse. Ah, good times. Pop over to the web site BTW, they’re giving away an I-Phone an hour.
  • Night Nurse – Actually, it’s probably exactly the same as NyQuil, but doesn’t the name just scream TLC – if you know what I mean? That reminds me of the conversation I once had with my paediatrician when one of my kids had really bad flu. I mentioned that the Night Nurse was working wonderfully, and noticed a momentary look of shock on her face. I realised that she thought I had hired a night nurse to deal with the child through the night, and immediately clarified the situation. Despite being English, I am not royalty!

Vicks Vapour Rub– spread so thickly over your chest that it makes your eyes sting and stream for hours. You can actually buy this in the US, but it doesn’t seem to be the staple that it was for me as a child and my kids won’t let me anywhere near them with the thick gooey stuff ever since I put some under my sons nose and accidentally got it on his chapped lips. He screamed so loudly I think the neighbours were a little concerned. Americans go for the gentler versions of Vicks – vaporisers, light creams and other namby-pamby treatments.

Oh and as Mike says, soup is always good. Only for me it’s Heinz Tomato Soup all the way.

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  1. I can't believe you can't get chicken rice soup here. Surely the chicken one is available though, and can't you add your own rice, or is it not the same? If I see some round here I'll get you some and post it!

    The other week I had stomach cramps and took 2 paracetamol & codeine tablets, forgetting that I was taking prescription strength ones (30-odd mg codeine, as opposed to 8mg in OTC ones). Then I went out for a meal with friends. Being the designated driver, I stuck to a tiny half glass of wine, but that was probably a bad idea... I came over all hot and nauseous, and when I got up to go to the loo, I fainted in the middle of the restaurant!

    An ambulance was called and I was wired up to an ECG and goodness knows what else. I did manage to persuade them that I didn't need to go to hospital, but I had to go and see the GP next day who reminded me that prescription drugs and alcohol, even a tiny bit, probably wasn't very sensible. Oops.

  2. Mike: Hope you feel better soon. That is one of my favourite poems from childhood too.
    I think I read that chicken soup contained something in the ingredients that helped faster recovery.

    Toni: I used to associate Lucozade (as a child) with being ill. I used to love the stuff and was sure it had healing properties.
    I haven't heard of all those American drugs. I am always being advised to take *so & so* from Canadians & Americans and I haven't ever heard of the things & have no chance of getting them here, or what the English equivalent is.....

    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  3. I had not realized that I was not alone in needing Aleve to be imported from the US... magical stuff, that. And there is nothing like that here. Feel better, Mike!

  4. I used to miss Lemsip and then had some one time when I was back in the UK and realized how vile it tasted!

    I am glad Collis Browne mixture (chlorodyne) is not available in the US. I got hooked on it after my mother gave it to me for a stomach upset when I was a teenager. Like lemsip, it does not taste particularly good, but put some in front of me and I'd drink it right now . . . They have changed the formula significantly since I took it back then, which hopefully has made it less addictive. Lethal stuff. Literally in some cases :-(

  5. Lemsip. Vicks vapor rub, chicken soup and fruit gums. Rowntrees of course. And a Broons or OOr Wullie annual.
    That was then.
    Now, Lemsip, or a hot toddie.

  6. Mike, Aleve is actually a different painkiller from paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspein, it's a drug called naproxen, and it isn't available in the UK. I think you can get it on prescription though. Toni, I stock up on paracodol when I'm in the UK and feel vaguely like a drug smuggler when I bring it back!

  7. Ms Baumn: Honsetly, no Campbell's Chicken rice soup. And other types/brands just don't cut it. And mind those prescription drugs ;)

    Maggie: Feeling better now. And, yes, Chicken soup is magical - there must be something in there!

    NFAH: A fellow Aleve smuggler ;) Nothing like it, it there?

    AA: Lemsip, vile? I love the blackcurrant flavor, I think it tasts great. Well, good, anyway, or not half bad ;)

    Clippy: I forgot to mention Hot Toddies - one of my favorite UK discoveries.

    Geeky: Thanks for that. I always suspected there was something different about Aleve.

    All: I also forgot to mention Olbas Oil as a great substitute for Vicks, and an amazing ointment/balm called Tiger Balm - great for sore muscles and various aches and pains.

  8. You can get Tiger Balm here. The one my chiropractor uses is made in Illinois!
    And you can't go wrong with Olbas Oil sprinkled on a real cotton handkerchief.

  9. Wow, hard to believe there's no Campbell's Chicken rice soup here! I do miss Aleve, too.

  10. What, no chicken and rice soup? I know darned well that I have some in my pantry. (Larder). Of course since the nasty weasels have gone to making meth with the Nyquil, you'll no doubt never find the real thing again this side of the curtain...but I tell you, Meal Soup (corn meal)is a handy dandy comfort food, and so easy to make, just mix some cornmeal (pure corn no flour in it)say a half cup with some milk say 2 cups (add slowly) and bring it slowly to a near boil, let it simmer a minute then add a pinch or two of salt a bit of pepper and you'll sleep like a baby. It's no nyquil to be sure, but it beats the alternative!

  11. I stocked up on Calpol when back in the UK - the equivalent stuff here doesn't seem to appeal to my kids. Other than that, I don't really miss British drugs - I think it's just the familiar branding that makes you feel better about them. For example, I really looked for Strepsils when I had a sore throat - I just wasn't sure what else to pick.

  12. Boy, everyone has their favorites, don't they? When I'm ill, it has to be aspirin, not Tylenol, which I find to be wimpy stuff for most things. Ibuprofen is fabulous for muscle aches. Vicks Vapor Rub is always in my night stand (along with Vaseline). I do have fond memories of a Canadian codeine/acetaminophen OTC drug that I had friends bring back for me in the days before sumatriptan was available for migraines. And for minor burns, including sunburns, Biafine is unmatched. We bought tubes and tubes of it when we visited France. Makes us sound like OTC drug smugglers. ;-)

  13. A tiger balm made in Illinois? That sounds wrong, like Italian Champagne or American Cheddar. It's very much a Singapore invention. The company that created tiger balm set up the most amazing (and disturbing) theme park called Haw Par Villa. I spent a few months living in Singapore, will have to blog about Haw Par when I start running dry on US material to write about.

  14. HOpe you feel better Mike. I'm sick with a cold right now as well. Reading this made me feel just a little bit better!

  15. Thanks. Much better now. Hope you are feeling better, as well.


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