SMOKE: A Taste Of My Own Medicine

Originally published: 19 April 2006

I was chatting to Grey the other day about scabs and our apparent lack of them. We came to the stunning realisation that it's been nigh on 20 years since we last had scabs on our knees, which is entirely fine by me.

When you were a kid you somehow always seemed to have cuts and scrapes and bruises and scabs and other irritating, standard injuries. But as you grow older and become more careful you stop ending up in situations which require you to bandage yourself or use Mercurochrome.

Much prefer it this way thanks, although I'll never turn my nose up at a juicy, wet, pustulent scab, ripe for the picking.

I got the flu last week. No, no - I'm not lying. Honestly. Unbelievable, but true. After a long day's work I suddenly felt a rush of stuff down the back of my throat, my head went to hell in a handbasket and my joints started aching - classic flu symptoms.

What made it so surprising is the fact that I never get ill - ever. It's the first time I've had flu in a decade, much less any other ailment.

I've been working 17 hours a day for three months now - weekends included - and I guess my body finally had enough. Even so it was still only a mild, irritating flu - not a debilitating one.

The major problem was my chest - it was tight as a chicken bum yet coughing was restricted to one or two pathetic, dry hacks that only served to inflame my overburdened sinuses and caused them to ache.

I needed a decongestant, or whatever that chest-loosening medication is called. Tashi went off and got me some Benylin and a tube of Corenza C.

The Corenza C wasn't too bad, but the moment I smelled that Benylin cough mixture I felt a heave in my stomach, brought on by some very unpleasant childhood medicine memories.

I manfully gulped down a large spoonful but despite their newly-added cherry essence they couldn't hide the taste of the foul elixir beneath, which made my eyes water with its potency. It was absolutely disgusting and left me shaking my head in wonderment at folks who get addicted to that crap.

By all means go ahead and get addicted to something, but at least make sure it's something tasty, y'know?

I had to chug down most of that bottle of Benylin before my chest reluctantly released the first tar-blackened loogie, which dislodged with alarming rapidity from the lung wall it was so desperately clinging onto and shot out into my waiting palm.

Ever watched a thick black-yellow blob of lung-butter sliding wetly down your palm? Don't go there. Trust me.

As if the Benylin wasn't bad enough Tashi decided it was taking too long, so came back one day with a tube of Berocca and instructions to take them. I didn't want to. As a kid I had Berocca forced on me daily (or Cal-C-Vita) and I utterly loathed it. My mother used to try and convince me that it was like Fanta but that was after I found out that she was Father Christmas.

Sure, Ma. Pull another fast one, why don'tcha?

The Berocca wasn't as bad as it used to be, however - they've definitely made some improvements to the taste since I was a kid. Still not my cup of tea, but at least I didn't throw up.

It got me thinking about other childhood medicines I had to take. It's a wonder that I made it out of childhood alive, considering all the syrups and mixtures and brews I took.

I hated it all. No medicine was good medicine, yet somehow I always seemed to be taking something. Not pills - those I hid in my cheek and spat into the toilet later. I attribute my good adult health to that practice, as my body was able to build up the antibodies required to fight off viruses and bugs.

It was mostly spoonfuls of horrible concoctions devised by demented apothecaries, most of whom seemed to be of the opinion that as long as you could make it taste bad enough the good townsfolk would believe it must be powerful stuff.

James Herriot, the celebrated veterinary surgeon turned author, once wrote about a huge bottle of medicine the local Yorkshire vets carried around, called UCM (Universal Cattle Medicine). He said that medically-speaking it did absolutely no good whatsoever, but it always impressed the farmers because it smelled so powerful.

Whenever a vet couldn't work out what was wrong with an animal they'd haul out a huge bottle of UCM, give the farmers a whiff and buy themselves some time. The farmers would step back hurriedly saying "Cor - that's some powerful stuff you got there, mister", and their eyes would widen in respect.

Never made the slightest bit of difference to their animals, but nobody seemed to mind. It was the principle that counted.

Same thing with many other childhood medicines. There were good ones of course, but I'm pretty certain a good proportion were nothing more than medicine-flavoured syrup.

My worst was Brewer's Yeast, however. My parents took a fancy to it (it was a vitamin-B complex supplement) and decided all of us had to take one pill a day. Knowing how much we all loathed it they checked carefully to make sure we swallowed, and there was no getting out of taking them.

There were two problems with the Brewer's Yeast pills: they were huge, and they stank. They also dissolved really quickly into a foul mush, so you couldn't keep them in your mouth for long - you had to swallow fast.

But I had a problem swallowing pills (which was why I normally threw them down the toilet) - I'd gag whenever I took a pill and it would stick in my throat.

I lost count of the amount of times that happened with Brewer's Yeast, which made the process incredibly traumatic for me.

I'd gag merely at the smell of the stinking pill and when I tried to swallow the monster it would inevitably get lodged in my throat. There it would start turning to mush while I gagged and retched and heaved to get rid of it, all the while the smell passing straight up into my nose, bringing tears to my eyes.

Once I got it down I would be left hanging over the kitchen sink, gasping and wheezing for breath, with tears running down my cheeks and bits of Brewer's Yeast swirling around the dregs of water in my glass. It was appalling.

So maybe I should attribute my adult health to Brewer's Yeast instead - the fear of medication scared my body into behaving itself most of the time.

If you ever need to get revenge on your kid for something (and come on - you must need some revenge sometime for something) - get them a big bag of Brewer's Yeast.

Tell them it's for their own good. Try to keep a straight face.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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