"Have I got the Piggy Flu?"


London is great for: all-night delis, libertarian sang-froid and being able to see, say, Michael Buerk in the Costa on The Strand, and go “Look! Michael Buerk! Isn’t he small in real life? But with a huge head! Amazing!”

London is, however, very bad for: fatal pandemics. We’ve all seen those episodes of Spooks. Someone with smallpox flies in from Harare, sneezes in Paddington, and WC1 through to SE22 are dead before they’ve even finished the title-sequence. We’re a densely-populated, international travel-hub; aka, The Killing Field.

In the event of contagion, the Tube will become a test-tube. The parks will be a petri-dish. London gets everything first – movies, designer handbags, fatal mutated viruses. If you want to be one of the very first to die, come here! You’ll be dead in minutes! So, Swine Flu is coming. It’s not Swine Flu, of course – I have a friend who’s very high up in diseased pigs (one of the advantages of living in London is that you are, statistically, very likely to meet someone who is very high up in diseased pigs; as well as see Michael Buerk in Costa) and he’s angrily adamant it’s nothing to do with pigs at all: “It’s just a flu virus: nothing to do with pigs!” he shouted. “Nothing to do with pigs! Nothing! Leave my pigs alone!”

Personally, however, where the kids are concerned, I’m sticking with Swine Flu. Or “Piggy Flu,” as the girls immediately renamed it. Calling it “Swine Flu” makes it sound less a problem for humans, more a problem for pigs – which is how I’d like to sell the whole pandemic thing to the girls, given the possibility of anxiety, paranoia, a spell of nightmares like we had with the Daleks, but worse.

Indeed, their own, cheering take on the pandemic – “Piggy Flu” – makes it sound about as adorable as a highly contagious, mutated virus with the potential to thin out the world’s population by 15-20% can. It sounds a bit like “Peggy Sue,” which is a lovely song by Buddy Holly. And Buddy Holly could never kill us. Not if we knocked his glasses off and then ran away, anyway.

In preparation for the advent of the virus, however, I have started to give them a bit of training. I’ve instructed them in how to wash their hands properly – rather than, as Eavie often does, simply rubbing her hands on the wet surface of the basin whilst shouting “Done it!” It’s a soap-all-over, two-verses-of-Happy-Birthday job now. They scrub up like the medics in ER.

Also, we’ve had to really advance our “Stopping Eavie From Licking Things” programme. At five, she’s at the very tail end of experiencing the world via her mouth – we often catch her absently gumming at the seat in front of her on a bus; or have to shout out “Eavie! Don’t lick the window/the table/that lady! Now I’m going to have to sterilise your mouth with whisky! Again!” In order to further illustrate why this is now a pleasure fraught with risk, we showed her some pictures of germs and viruses on Google.

“I didn’t know that germs looked like that,” she said, thoughtfully, staring at the screen. “I thought they looked like badgers.”


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