We were discussing the problems associated with having a cough. I've had a hacking, violent one for two weeks now, one of those in which your insides make a strong bid to become your outsides. This is fine if you're at home and can bend over double in your own kitchen, but not in front of a class of 25 teenagers watching you cough and hack like a tuberculous hag throughout an explanation of the difference between a dash and a hyphen. 'So, you see [cough cough cough], whereas a dash is punctuation and can be used to [hack hack hack] separate clauses in a sentence do excuse me while I open this cough sweet [cough cough cough], a hyphen is used to create [desperate, panicked sucking on cough sweet] compound words [hack hack hack inhale sweet].'
No pupil wants you to come to their desk to help with their punctuation exercises, either, when it's like having a eucalyptus plantation check your work.
The sixth former hadn't heard the coughing rhyme. 'Tell me,' she said.
'Okay. Here it is. "It's not the cough that carries you off. It's the coffin they carry you off in"'.
'Oh,' she said. She put on a face that implied, 'You just spoiled my day, old person. It's like the Grim Reaper just walked in and said, "Time's up."'
'Sorry,' I said.
|Mrs Hill in her role as encourager and motivator of today's youth|
I'd forgotten that when you're seventeen, fresh-faced, and erupting with optimism, jokes about death seem more macabre than when you're fifty-four this April and your definition of optimism is a hope that the brown spots appearing on the backs of your hands and on your forehead won't mean people mistake you for a giraffe when the light is poor.
I was intending to write a blog post about coughs, but now I think I'll write a list of definitions of middle-aged optimism instead.
1. The hope that your hair will go 'glamour-grey-white' and not 'sucked-of-all-life-dirty-grey'
2. The hope that you'll be able to keep your getting-out-of-a-chair noises to little uh sounds and not progress to BLOODY NORA with a hand on the hip
3. The hope that toilets will never be more than ten strides away
4. The hope that the effect of that chorizo sausage last Friday night was a one-off
5. The hope that you'll never have to thread a needle again with anyone watching
6. The hope that no one will ever say 'Would you like a million pounds - no strings?' to you in a crowded room full of other people chatting
7. The hope that you'll be at the bottom of the stairs when you realise you have forgotten why you intended to climb them, and not already at the top
8. The hope that, today, no forty-five year old will let you on the bus first
9. The hope that, if death should come while you're napping on the sofa, someone will close your mouth for you
10. The hope that, if death should come while you're coughing your inner organs out, someone will take the cough sweet out of your mouth before it sticks to your skull for ever and when someone digs you up in 2064 it'll still be there, exuding its menthol fumes
The cough is going now, which is welcome, because our neighbours are doubtless wondering whether I have TB. I have coughed so dramatically on the other side of their bedroom wall at night-time that I suspect flakes of plasterwork have drifted from their ceiling, the light fittings have swung gently from side to side, and a few porcelain ornaments have shifted dangerously to the edges of shelves.
But the manufacturers of Lockets have been laughing.