Lucy Mangan: the medicine man and me

Toryboy has another of the 182 colds a year he contracts. So we are having one of our 182 rows a year about medication. I, being the daughter of two northern stoics, don't believe in taking pills. It cures itself or you die and the next sibling down gets your coat a year early. While growing up, if I reached for the paracetamol, it was quickly snatched from my grasp by a watchful parent and replaced with a hearty dose of sarcastic inquisition. "Is your arm falling off?" my mother or father would ask, casually tossing the bottle from hand to hand.

"No, it's not. I just..."

"Is your leg perhaps jammed under an invisible train?"

"No, I've got a..."

"A what? Broken neck? Dislocated shoulder? Your uncle Dan had one of them. He didn't take tablets, he took it to Bridlington and did four summer seasons as the Double-Jointed Jester of Jarrow. You kids today, you've no gumption."

You didn't even get a plaster if you cut yourself. You were put in the bath until it stopped bleeding, in case you stained the carpet. "It'll stop of its own accord," my dad would say reassuringly as my sister and I gazed – increasingly palely – at the gushing blood. "Either by clotting or because you'll run out. Call me if you faint." And before we could point out the logical snafu, he'd be gone.

Toryboy, on the other hand, thinks that taking tablets to make himself feel better is a sensible strategy rather than a sign of physical weakness and moral corruption. He buys boxes of the stuff – even decongestant tablets, as if anything short of six feet of rubber tubing and an industrial waste pump is going to clear those sinuses – and with every blister pack he pops, I despise him a little more. But things really came to a head this time because he gave his cold to Buggerlugs and I balked at the idea of giving him Calpol.

"Right," Toryboy says. "Explain to me, once and for all, why you and your idiot ilk are so against the deployment of proven, safe, effective, readily available remedies for the alleviation of minor but still unnecessary and debilitating suffering. Both for yourselves and now for this poor, innocent, red-faced, squalling infant."

I think about it, probably for the first time, and reply slowly: "It's because you should always try to get along with as little as possible. Food, money, loo paper – we had a lodger once who used four sheets just for a wee! – medicine, whatever."

"And why?" Toryboy asks.

"So that you always have some in reserve."

"In case of what?"

"Shortages. War. War shortages. Bad harvests."

"Anything else?" he says.

The words are out of my mouth before I know it. "Yes," I say. "You get brownie points with God."

"What?" Toryboy says.

"Well, using as little as possible of everything is the right thing to do, so you build up brownie points, and then, if things ever do go bad, you've got some of his goodwill in the bank to draw on, haven't you?"

There is a long silence.

"I'm going to give the baby his Calpol now," Toryboy says eventually. "And I don't want you to speak to him ever again."

I nod. It is a bitter pill, but probably for the best.

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